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'Paint stripper' tap water has residents of this Queensland town hitting the bottle

Nicole Hegarty, Tuesday July 28, 2020 - 17:11 EST
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Taps off: Biggenden publican Stuart Toms says washing his glasses in the water makes his beer flat. - ABC

Residents of the North Burnett town of Biggenden are having trouble swallowing news their tap water — reputed to strip paint from cars, make beer flat and kill gardens — is unlikely to improve soon.

The town of almost 1,000 people is about an hour from Bundaberg and Maryborough and sources its water from bores.

Publican Stuart Toms said the town water was so unappealing he had switched to rainwater and others were relying on the bottled variety.

"The water itself out of the tap will just leave a film on the glasses and send the beer flat," he said.

"You can have a shower in it, you can wash your teeth in it but I wouldn't drink it unless you're really close to a toilet.

"People in town aren't even willing to water their gardens because it will kill your plants.

"One of the first things we were told was do not wash your car in this water because it has the potential to strip the paint off."

He said it was difficult to understand why better quality water wasn't available, given the town's proximity to Bundaberg and Maryborough.

"When we are only an hour and a bit from Bundy or Hervey Bay, where they have good drinking water. Why do you come out here and it's completely the opposite?" he said.

"It would be nice to see someone come out here and find out what is wrong."

'Safe but yucky'

The North Burnett Council has been trying to address the issue since 2017.

Mayor Rachel Chambers said the water was safe to drink but not pleasant.

"I have heard that some people felt that it was making them sick but we couldn't get any rhyme or reason for it," she said.

"The expert testing didn't show anything in there that would have been causing that.

"I haven't heard of it as a paint stripper, nor as a glass issue.

"Biggenden water is safe but it is yucky."

Cr Chambers said the council was still hopeful of accessing water from nearby Paradise Dam, despite its capacity being reduced for safety and stability reasons.

"The pipeline project is still going forward even though we have bigger issues at Paradise Dam. We are also looking at plan B, C and D," she said.

"There should be no reason why we can't have drinking water from Paradise."

Biggenden Chamber of Commerce president Kevin Edwards said most people had been buying bottled water or carting it in.

"We know legally and health wise it's quite satisfactory, but it's very acidic and drinking it is nearly impossible," he said.

"The council is doing a really good job within the difficult circumstances they have because of the low number of ratepayers in the area ... but most people have to buy water.

"People assume that they can go to the tap and have a drink of water. You can't do that in Biggenden."

Water security also a concern

Burnett Livestock and Realty co-owner Stephanie Whitaker said she relied on rainwater as tap water was potable but not palatable.

She said water security as well as quality was also a barrier to people moving to the town.

"We've seen a lot of interest in people moving from the coast to the more rural areas but water security is a big issue," she said.

"I think it would go a long way to being the last piece of the puzzle having water security and the quality of the water.

"I know council are working very hard towards improving our water supply and Biggenden's water has always been on the rough side, but it could be a lot worse."


© ABC 2020

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