Townsville water update – 1500hrs 10 February

Date published: 10 February 2021

Townsville City Council continues to work with the Townsville Hospital and Health Service to ensure water being supplied to Townsville households and businesses is safe to drink.

Townsville Public Health Unit director Dr Steven Donohue reassured the community that the water is safe to drink.

“There is absolutely no relationship or correlation between the colour of the water and the safety of the water,” Dr Donohue said.

“Water colouration can be impacted by a range of naturally occurring minerals and pigments that are purely cosmetic.

“Townsville’s water supply continues to meet all the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines for safe consumption of water.”

Mayor Jenny Hill said she understood residents’ worries and apologised for the concerns the current discolouration was causing.

“The health and wellbeing of the community is our top priority. That’s why our water supply is comprehensively treated and rigorously tested to ensure it meets all applicable health standards,” Cr Hill said.

“I can assure the public we are undertaking rigorous testing every day, multiple times a day and are working closely with the Department of Health to ensure the water quality meets drinking water quality standards.”

“That regime is continuing to show the water is safe to drink despite the discolouration, but I completely understand that some residents are concerned.”

Cr Hill said there was no quick fix for the outbreak of blue-green algae in the Ross River Dam, which had forced changes to the city’s water network leading to the discolouration occurring.

Townsville Water General Manager Scott Moorhead said crews were working on every available mitigation to alleviate the discolouration issue.

“The problem is the amount of algae coming through from the dam is clogging the filters and slowing down the treatment process,” Mr Moorhead said.

“We are trialling additional filtration equipment at the Douglas Water Treatment Plant in an effort to produce more water.

“We are also varying the depth at which we are taking water from Ross River Dam to try and minimise algae getting into the system as well as some of the minerals that are causing discolouration.”

Blue-green algal blooms are a common issue and are caused by an excess of nutrients being washed into the dam due to the onset of the wet season combined with warmer temperatures.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why is the water discoloured?
    • The Ross River Dam, Townsville's primary water supply, is currently experiencing an outbreak of blue-green algae. Effects of blue-green algae blooms tend to be worsened by hot weather and inflow form recent rainfall.

      While blue-green algae outbreaks are common, this particular bloom is blocking filters and imposing treatment complications at the Douglas Treatment Plant.

      Some microscopic particles of blue-green algae pass through the filters. In addition, the soluble minerals available in the dam due to the bloom,contribute to the discolouration.

  • Is the water safe to drink?
    • Yes, the water is safe to drink and bathe in.

      The network is extensively tested daily to ensure all water meets the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines. We are also working closely with and receiving advice from Queensland Public Health and the Water Supply Regulator. The discolouration is a visual issue and is not a health concern.
  • Is it safe for my pets?
    • Yes.
  • Why is there a chlorine odour when running tap water?
    • The normal water treatment dosage is currently slightly higher than usual as we adjust our treatment methods to respond to the blue-green algae issues we are managing, however dosage is well within health guidelines. Our water supply to residents continues to comply with the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines. Our team is currently working to lower chlorine residual in the system.

      Helpful tip!
      To dilute the chlorine taste or odour for drinking, place water in an open-top container in the fridge or on the kitchen counter and the chlorine will dissipate out naturally.
  • Why are only some suburbs impacted?
    • Different suburbs (and sometimes different streets in larger suburbs) are pumped from various water supplies. Only some suburbs are being affected by the discoloured water and we are working to minimise affected suburbs.
  • How long will this issue of discolouration take to resolve?
    • This issue depends on the weather and environmental conditions causing elevated levels of blue-green algae in the dam. Council is continuing to do everything possible to alleviate the situation and will continue to update the community.
  • Who is testing the water?
    • Townsville Laboratory Services is testing the water multiple times a day. Townsville City Council Laboratory Services is a NATA accredited laboratory (National Association of Testing Authorities).

      Results are confirmed and supplied to Queensland Health (Townsville Public Health Unit) and the Water Supply Regulator's office.

      Townsville City Council continues to test the water quality and liaise with the Department of Health on a daily basis. To publish the complete test results requires up to 5 days of analysis of the  NATA certified laboratory. View the test results from Monday 22 February 2021.

  • Has this happened before in Townsville?
    • Not to this extent. In late 2018, blue-green algae was detected in and flushed out during the 2019 floods. It was detected again in mid-2019 and numbers have been fluctuating but steadily increasing.
  • Does this happen in other places?
    • Yes. This is a worldwide issue. The long, hot summers experienced worldwide are compounding the problem (Mt Isa have had a bloom since 2014).
  • What is Council doing?
    • Townsville City Council is working to manage the impacts of the blue-green algae bloom.

Download the Discoloured water: Frequently Asked Questions (PDF, 37.6 KB)