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Drought-addled mining town Mount Morgan, where water tastes like dirt

Saturday April 17, 2021 - 23:30 EST
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La-Toya Grahame says the tap water in Mount Morgan tastes and smells like dirt. - ABC

As parts of Queensland revel in the liquid gold brought by La Niña, a mother in a former mining town pours water left in a glass back into a plastic bottle.

In the late 1800s, Mount Morgan was a river of gold ? its mines yielding fortunes that spawned BP ? but now Rockhampton council is paying up to $10,000 a day to truck water to the town.

Its water supply ? No 7 dam ? sits at just over 8 per cent, with the town currently at level 6 restrictions.

Locals say the tap water they do have tastes like "dirt".

They say they don't want to drink it, parents say their children don't want to bathe in it, a coffee shop plumbs 15 litres of bottled water into their machine just to avoid complaints.

It's a water crisis a local development group fears could be hampering industry.

Not good enough for coffee

Tracy Ehlers co-owns a café in town and said despite council deeming tap water safe for drinking she had received a slew of customer complaints.

"People saying that our coffee machine was starting to taste funky with the water the way it is so we don't actually have it plumbed into the system," she said.

"So we've actually resorted to buying big buckets, big gallons of water ? every day so they're getting filtered, fresh, clean water so they're not having that nasty dirty taste.

"It might only be $10 for a 20L, 15L bottle of water but you want your sales to stay. You've got to do what you've got to do," she said.

"I won't put my prices or anything up, I think that's disrespectful to our community to start charging more for a commodity that we should be getting anyway.

"The council can say, 'Yes, it's safe to drink', but if you look at a glass of water that's got floaties in it you're not going to want to drink it."

A family struggles

Tattooed on La-Toya Grahame's arm are the words: love, hope and faith.

She said the Mount Morgan's water crisis was putting the latter to the test.

"If it's not fixed for a long-term solution, I'll have to [move away] because you can't wash your kids in green algae, you can't wash them in dirt," she said.

Ms Grahame has been buying 10L bottles of water for her family to drink.

Her children don't even want to shower in the tap water.

"They're complaining about the smell because a bathroom or shower is a bit closed-in so the smell is putrid as soon as they go for a shower," she said.

"What you smell is what you're going to taste. It's like dirt."

Limiting growth

Mount Morgan Promotion and Development Inc president John Steinberger said the town's water crisis had been going on for at least 38 years.

"It restricts development; it restricts industry growth," he said.

"We're pretty resilient up here but it's still not good to be pushed to the limit where we're constantly trying to conserve water.

"You walk along Quay street [in Rockhampton] and you see all of those magnificent buildings that were built on Mount Morgan's gold.

"We are part of Rockhampton regional [council] and all we want I suppose is ? a permanent water supply."

No timeline for solution

Rockhampton Councillor Donna Kirkland said council had earmarked long-term action plans, including repurposing raw water and a pipeline from nearby Gracemere.

But there was no definite timeline for a solution.

"We need to do feasibility studies and peer test all of those taking on board the sentiment of the community," she said.

Cr Kirkland said council was in talks with the state government to fund water trucking ? with deliveries set to increase to 20 trucks each day from Monday.

"There has, of course, been that precedence set by the state supporting trucking water to Stanthorpe for 18 months or so," she said.

"They were trucking 25 to 30 trucks a day so where we are positioned right now, given that precedent, would set us in good stead hopefully to secure the same."


© ABC 2021

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