Clean drinking water comes with a price tag for residents in a north-west New South Wales town as they are forced to purchase their water due to the elevated sodium levels in a backup supply.
The people of Walgett have been dependent on using bore water from the Great Artesian Basin for the past year since the Barwon and Namoi Rivers – the community’s main drinking supply– dried up due to ongoing droughts.
The Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting no rain for the remainder of July and its predictions for August to October are showing a lower than average rainfall for most of NSW.
Gamilaroi Elder Clem Dodd, a speaker for the Dharriwaa Elders Group, told NITV News that things got worse when their only grocery store for 80km burnt down in June, leaving people to turn to petrol stations to purchase water.
“It’s about $2 to $3 dollars a bottle,” he said.
Mr Dodd said most children are choosing to spend their money on soft drinks instead of water.
The Dharriwaa Elders Group are also highly concerned about potential health effects from drinking the bore water.
“Drinking water with lots of salt in it is no good for you,” Mr Dodd said.
Mr Dodd said the community of Walgett are getting “stomach aches”, “gastric” and “vomiting” – believed to be caused by drinking the bore water.
Local reports the same thing happening in Bourke, about 200 kilometres west of Walgett, where the locals are forced to drink bore water due to the droughts that have dried-up the Barka-Darling River.
Jacqui Webster, a salt reduction expert from the George Institute for Global Health, told the ABC earlier this week that high salt levels in drinking water were a genuine health concern for the people of Walgett and Bourke.
"Too much salt in the diet increases blood pressure and increased blood pressure is one of the key contributors to premature death from heart disease and stroke in Australia," Dr Webster told the ABC.
"You've got a high proportion of the community who are Aboriginal people, and we know Aboriginal communities already suffer disproportionately from high rates of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and kidney disease.”
The New South Wales Government has committed several million dollars to improve the water quality for Bourke and Walgett by removing the salt from the bore water supply using reverse osmosis, a type of desalination technology, the ABC reported.
“It will be good once they take the salt out of the water because then we will be able to drink, the water will be better too,” Mr Dodd said.