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Leaky pipes still in place in the outback opal-mining town that has faced repeated water shortages

By Saskia Mabin, Wednesday June 3, 2020 - 00:09 EST
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White Cliffs has many 'dugout' homes. The community built homes underground due to the heat and underground mines. - ABC

An outback New South Wales town that has repeatedly faced the prospect of running out of water will have to wait for an upgrade to its decrepit water-supply system.

The opal-mining town of White Cliffs, in the state's far west, last year came within weeks of needing to truck water more than 200 kilometres from Broken Hill.

A multi-million-dollar State Government project to upgrade the town's water supply was announced in 2016.

It included a plan to replace the network of leaking pipes that supplied water to about 200 properties, and upgrades to the main storage reservoir and water-treatment plant.

The project was supposed to be complete within two years but, four years on, work has not started.

The administrator of the Central Darling Shire, Bob Stewart, said the project had faced multiple setbacks because of the town's isolation and design issues.

"It's taken too long and it's certainly an issue that we've been following up on," Mr Stewart said.

The council knocked back the only tender it received for the upgrade early this year because it was too expensive.

It instead resolved to roll the project together with planned upgrades to the water-treatment plants at Wilcannia and Ivanhoe.

"What we're looking at is $5.7 million worth of works with those three projects," Mr Stewart said.

"Hopefully [we'll] get some economies [of scale] there with a contractor coming in knowing they've got a large value of work in three locations."

Mr Stewart said work should begin on the White Cliffs water upgrade within a year, subject to the other two projects being approved.

"We've been working through finalising designs and we're getting close to that," he said.

Locals remain patient

White Cliffs opal miner Dick Wagner said recent rain had put about nine months of water back in storage for the town, but it would be a relief to have a reliable source of potable water.

"I'm just ecstatic that I can see light at the end of the tunnel," Mr Wagner said.

"Back before Christmas it was getting a bit desperate out this way."

Mr Wagner said "lots and lots" of water had been wasted because of leakage from the reticulation mains installed in the 1990s.

"That's created a lot of the problems associated with the water supply now," he said.

But Mr Wagner said the locals were a "patient lot" who understood there were challenges with getting the project underway.

"You've got to understand the tyranny of distance out this way," he said.

"If they can give the tenderer a bit of extra work in the region with Ivanhoe and Wilcannia upgrades, it makes it a win-win for everybody."


© ABC 2020

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