Image for TasWater Should Report in Real-Time, Says Legislative Council

*Pic: Ebony Slade’s pic of Risdon Brook Dam, water supply to the Eastern Shore. Below: Ebony’s shot of Snug Falls. Ebony is Tim’s sister ...

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On Tuesday, August 9, 2016, Tasmania’s Legislative Council voted in favour of the motion –

The Legislative Council strongly supports TasWater being required to report all drinking water data in real-time on their website.

For this parliamentary motion, the definition of real-time is:

As drinking water sample results return to TasWater, following periodic testing at the laboratory, the reporting of all items of data, without unnecessary delay, and with the view that all data be reported on a consistent and timely basis. 

*The intent of this definition of real-time – to report all drinking water data, without unnecessary delay – shall be applied at all times and to the best of reasonable ability. [Definition by Tim Slade]

Tania Rattray, MLC for Apsley, put forward the motion.  In Ms Rattray’s electorate of Apsley, all five of Tasmania’s lead-contaminated drinking water systems can be found – at Pioneer, Winnaleah, Avoca, Rossarden and Whitemark (Flinders Island).  Within Apsley there are also numerous towns on alerts to boil drinking water before consumption.

Ms Rattray, in her opening speech to the Legislative Council, on August 9, said:

‘Honourable members, support today for this motion would send a strong message that having access to the real-time data for TasWater customers is vital to ensuring confidence within the community in the water quality being delivered by TasWater. I would urge honourable members to support this strong message and motion.’


Ms Rattray cited a written statement to Tim Slade by the Minister for Local Government, Mr. Gutwein:

‘The Government has a limited role to play in the operations of independent statutory authorities such as TasWater.’

Ms Rattray addressed the House to voice a contrary view:

‘I dispute that because we have the monitoring arm in the department that already monitors this, so the Government does have a direct role to play.’

Ms Rattray continued:

‘The government has a significant role there.  We often hear that TasWater belongs to councils, but there is a significant role [for government] in the water quality issues for our communities…  My own research has found that the state water officer is an employee of the Department of Health and Human Services and is involved in the appointment of water quality auditors who then have a role in auditing the Drinking Water Quality Management Plans – the DWQMP – prepared and implemented by TasWater.’

Ms Rattray expressed hope that policy could change.  Ms Rattray cited the past comments of Minister Gutwein, from June 9, 2015:

‘It would be important, regardless of where you lived in the state, that you had some understanding of the quality of the water you are drinking.’

In Tasmania’s Lower House of parliament the House of Assembly, the policy of real-time reporting presently has the support of the Labor Party and the Tasmanian Greens – Scott Bacon, Andrea Dawkins, Bryan Green and Cassie O’Connor have each delivered major speeches in the Tasmanian parliament this year in favour of real-time reporting.

But none of these speeches has been reported by the Tasmanian media.  Once again, the Tasmanian media chose not to get to the heart of TasWater’s ethos and dysfunction when they failed to report the success of this important Upper House motion on August 9 – the one exception a single short story in The Mercury, which appeared only after I contacted the newspaper myself.

Repeated direct communications with ABC Mornings with Leon Compton were ignored. 

A dollar-driven media-focus has allowed the Chairman and the CEO of TasWater to avoid scrutiny.  It follows that the Tasmanian media have delivered, to TasWater and to the government, an eternal escape route – a lack of funding.  Boiling down problems to a lack of money is lazy journalism and it is to defy evidence – a tremendous weight of evidence, provided over many years, proving that the policies and practice of senior management at TasWater, and those of their government overseers, is not functional and is not open. 

Why is TasWater opposed to real-time data?

Prior to August 9 (and to this day) TasWater’s CEO Mike Brewster has stated his unequivocal opposition to the real-time reporting of all drinking water data in Tasmania. 

Mr Brewster’s pre-determined policy here contradicts other statements by him wherein he has said that TasWater’s intention has always been to come back at a later time to assess their pictorial model, to see how satisfactorily it addresses the requirements of the public and stakeholders.  CEO Brewster seems to be making up policy on the run – again.

And an independent senior computer engineer, Mr Daniel Taylor, who has worked at the highest level of the Education Department in Victoria, provided to me and to the Legislative Council a cost-analysis which indicates that the reporting of all data in real-time is cheaply available and very simple to achieve:

A one-off start-up cost of (at most) $20,000

        An annual maintenance cost of $12,000

TasWater, and most recently Minister Ferguson, regularly cite expense and the volume of data as a primary reason against real-time reporting.  But Mr Taylor’s cost-analysis suggests that these fears are without basis in fact.

TasWater have not at any stage provided a cost-analysis for the reporting of all data in real-time.

Ms Rattray, in her closing comments in the Legislative Council on August 9, said:

‘I have not had any figures back from TasWater to say what the real cost is…  If that is wrong [Mr. Taylor’s independent cost-analysis], TasWater may like to let me know.’

Real-time reporting can be delivered at the touch of a button …

TasWater presently employ for data entry into their private database drinking water test results.  So there is no need for additional employees – there will be no additional employment costs to TasWater.

Ms. Rattray continued:

‘The data is there – just put it out into the website in that timely, ‘without unnecessary delay’, approach.  This is what we are asking for here.  We are not asking for information that potentially is not available; it is available.  This is our request.’

In 2015, a successful motion of the Local Government Association of Tasmania (LGAT), representing Tasmania’s 29 councils, the sole owners of TasWater, directed that a more timely reporting of drinking water data should occur, but Mayors have been otherwise silent and inactive on this issue, and LGAT has facilited an opaque, non-consultative approach. 

The GMC Board at LGAT is yet to explain the written statements of Ms Holmdahl, a GMC Board member, in relation to this Board’s exclusion from discussions.  And the Minister for Local Government, Mr Peter Gutwein, has obfuscated on this issue.  Mr Gutwein refuses to address Ms Holmdah’s statements.  And no person in government is holding Mr Gutwein to his responsibilities as Minister for Local Government. 

Where is the Premier when you need him?

Returning to the specifics of the model, the response by TasWater – one-year after the LGAT motion, but prior to the August 9 decision in Tasmania’s Legislative Council – was to create its own no-data, three-monthly, traffic-light model.  There was no collaboration with major stakeholders before the model was signed-off on by three non-elected General Managers from local councils. 

TasWater’s quarterly no-data website model – no data for breaches, nor any baseline results – presently uses a traffic-light system and bases this one-page pictorial on three-to-six-months-old data.  TasWater’s limited model furthermore fails to reference, in its pictorial, disinfection by-products (DBPs) and pesticides. 

The one-page pictorial is difficult to find on TasWater’s website.  There is no flag on TasWater’s main page to direct readers to the service of the pictorial.  And there is no mechanism for feedback, to confirm one way or another if customers find the no-data pictorial of any practical use.

On August 9, 2016, Tasmania’s Legislative Council voted in favour of every Tasmanian citizen’s right to know about their drinking water in real-time. 

This vote in the Upper House in favour of real-time data is a further rejection of the opaque policies of TasWater’s Chairman, Miles Hampton, and CEO, Mike Brewster.

TasWater and the Tasmanian Liberal government suggest that real-time data will not make our water any safer, because protocols are closely followed and health outcomes are guarded.

But the present policy against real-time data by TasWater and the Tasmanian Liberal government can be extrapolated, in relation to Pioneer, to the following 3 nonsensical statements:

The residents of Pioneer would not have been interested to know about the several high test results for lead (Pb), breaching the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines, during the three years leading up to the 2012 alert by TasWater. 

Residents would not have wished to know about the general theme of lead (Pb) in Pioneer’s water supply, with results at most times being very close to or above limits as set out in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines. 

Residents at Pioneer will not be concerned that a safe water supply via rainwater tanks would be unfinished four years later, in 2016 [now], following the 2012 alert.  [This failure is due to a lack of public awareness of data, and thus a lack of impetus for TasWater to plan for the future.]

Clearly, the residents of Pioneer reject all three of these nonsensical statements.  In real terms, these nonsensical statements reflect precisely the policy of TasWater’s Chairman, Mr Hampton, and recent statements by the Tasmanian Liberal government’s Minister for Health, Mr Ferguson, and the Minister for Local Government, Mr Gutwein.

For lead (Pb), no fixed protocols or guidelines exist to direct TasWater to call an alert.  The Water Quality Officer at TasWater confirmed to me during a telephone conversation on March 11, 2016, as follows: 

“…in relation to lead [Pb], two consecutive high readings are not a necessary prerequisite for us to call an alert [‘Do Not Consume’ advice]… a flexible approach is necessary…”

He also confided, when I asked him about Pioneer’s experiences between 2009 and 2012, prior to the alert:

“That would not happen now… I’m here now…”

In contrast to this admission by TasWater’s Water Quality Officer that a gold standard had not been applied at Pioneer pre-alert, TasWater’s Chairman and CEO are both in opposition to the reporting of all drinking water in real-time.  And neither the Chairman nor the CEO has ever made a written or verbal statement to explain this contradiction in these particular comments by TasWater’s Water Quality Officer. 

Where is the Premier when you need him?

Deepening these unaddressed contradictions, a 2016 study by MacQuarie University’s Professor Taylor and Paul Harvey, published online on the very same day as Ms. Rattray’s successful motion in the Upper House, points to widespread and undocumented lead-contaminated drinking water across Australia.  http://authors.elsevier.com/a/1TWDO3Ao5g3km

It is reasonable to suggest that the reporting of all drinking water data in real-time will inform our knowledge of, and relationship to, water.  Similarly, real-time data will inform us all about our environment.  It will inform our life. 

A study published in September this year by Cam Walker and compiled by Friends Of The Earth’s Anthony Amis, confirms widespread pesticide pollution of Australian waterways.  The study further asserts that most of these pesticides have no ecological guidelines, and 40% are not accountable to drinking water guidelines.  http://www.foe.org.au/articles/2016-09-27/study-confirms-widespread-pesticide-pollution-australian-waterways

Developments in technology and drinking water quality are happening in Australia now.  For example, point-of-use ultra-violent water treatment is an approved chemical-free method as per the Tasmanian Director of Public Health, and it is crying out to be used in towns like the revamped mountain bike mecca at Derby, in north-east Tasmania, but as yet TasWater have chosen not to be Australian leaders in drinking water.

And the reporting of all drinking water data in real-time could work with, rather than against, news this month that the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines is to be expanded for microbial health-based targets. 

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has compiled a draft framework to be added to the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (ADWG) http://www.awa.asn.au  This draft is open for public consultation, and submissions can be made online before November 4 at http://stfi.re/bxdbrbo

The reporting of all drinking water data in real-time would encourage conscientious future planning, and potentially, the monitoring of a greater range of disinfection by-products (DBPs) – dangerous chemicals caused by the addition of chlorine to water.  TasWater presently test for 6 (six) of a potential seven-hundred (700) known DBPs.

Real-time data is thus a right-to-know policy, a health policy and an environmental policy.

Tasmania can choose to be a leader in drinking water policy for all of Australia.

So what will happen next for real-time data?

Ms Rattray MLC spoke passionately to achieve success in the Upper House of the Tasmanian Parliament for real-time data.  And in the Lower House, Ms. Rattray has the support of the Labor Party and the Tasmanian Greens.

It is now up to Ms Rattray to negotiate with the Liberal government’s Minister for Local Government, Mr Gutwein, TasWater’s Chairman, Mr Hampton, the President of the Local Government Association (LGAT), Mr Chipman, and the chairman for TasWater at LGAT, Mr Downie.

Following this successful motion in Tasmania’s Legislative Council, one would like to believe that the government can no longer ignore this popular reform for drinking water policy in Tasmania.

But a letter to me on September 6 this year from Mr Michael Ferguson, Tasmania’s Minister for Health, did not make any reference at all to the successful August 9 motion in the Legislative Council.

Furthermore, Minister Ferguson’s letter of September 6, on behalf of Mr Gutwein – in reply to one of my letters to him five-months earlier – stated a continued opposition to the reporting of real-time data for drinking water in Tasmania, primarily on the basis of cost.  This is despite the fact that, as I have discussed, the Tasmanian government has not asked TasWater to provide a cost-analysis.  Thus, TasWater has chosen not to provide a cost-analysis. 

Where is the Premier when you need him?

Minister Ferguson further suggests, as he did also in a previous letter to me, that the real-time reporting of data will not make our drinking water any safer.  On this point, Minister Ferguson’s letter of September 6, 2016, written on behalf of Minister Gutwein, is clearly deficient in three ways:

It improperly (insincerely) omits any reference to the August 9 Legislative Council decision to strongly support TasWater being required to report all drinking water data in real-time.  Nor does the Minister’s letter reference in any way the successful 2015 LGAT motion.

Reasons provided by the Minister in relation to cost lack any reference to an actual cost-analysis – TasWater have not been required to complete a cost-analysis. 

The relevance of real-time reporting in relation to the experiences at Pioneer, and specifically the contradictory comments of TasWater’s own Water Quality Officer, are not acknowledged in any sense.  Not in relation to lead-contamination and the failure of TasWater to reasonably notify residents, 2009 - 2012; nor in relation to the failure of TasWater to initiate pre-emptive planning for a solution at Pioneer during this time; nor to acknowledge the failure of TasWater to install rainwater tanks within a reasonable and safe timeframe, and to openly and respectfully communicate with residents. 

Where is the Premier when you need him?

Although we see a lack of desire by government to look to the heart of the problem – and to check that their heart is indeed in the right place – we live in hope.

And if hope proves false, at least we can be sure now, after all of our work so far, that a future Labor government, or else, a Labor / Greens government, will indeed deliver to Tasmanians the real-time reporting of all drinking water data.

Tasmania thanks Ms Rattray, and we wish her the very best of luck. 

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• Tim Slade in Comments: Published today in The Mercury - ‘TasWater product earns a nomination for top tap drop’: HERE . CEO Brewster must have sent a press release to The Mercury, who in the spirit of hard-hitting journalism, published it in today’s edition. CEO Brewster seems to have both time and aptitude for bad taste publicity stunts ... Notable quotes …