Turning around a remote township’s water from a public health alert to safe drinking water and helping a local water authority deliver the project under budget.

The sleepy Tasmanian township of Pioneer, with a history deep in mining discovered lead in its drinking water. In its former glory the town 120km north west of Launceston, was one of the most successful mining towns in Australia. The tin mine was established in the late 1800’s and had built its own dam and power station to power the equipment.

Not only a mining powerhouse at its time but a political powerhouse too, Pioneer was also home to Joseph Lyons, the local schoolteacher who later became the 10th Australian Prime Minister.

Nowadays with its population at a modest 89, the community’s untreated water supply meant they had already been issued with a Boil Water Alert (BWA) as it didn’t meet The Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (ADWG). But when the Tasmanian state water authority TasWater identified high levels of lead in its water supply the BWA was upgraded to a Do Not Consume (DNC) Public Health Alert as boiling water doesn’t remove lead.

The ADWG state the concentration of lead in drinking water should not exceed 10 micrograms per litre (ug/L), and the Pioneer township had 14.5 ug/L.

Whilst mining is a contributing source of lead contamination, outside of mining communities, lead can enter the water supply from high acidity and alkalinity levels or low mineral counts of water that corrodes pipes and fixtures. Some older homes still have lead pipes and or solder used in seal joints.

There were four possible sources of contamination to Pioneer’s water, identified from both water and sediment in the Pioneer Dam, pipes in the town distribution systems and local plumbing in individual buildings.

Lead is a heavy metal that can be absorbed through inhalation, ingestion or placental transfer. Children, infants and foetuses are highly vulnerable to lead with long lasting effects impacting brain development and the nervous system. Adults can experience damage to their kidneys and high blood pressure.

Lead in water can be treated by using coagulants or lime softening, in this instance a rainwater reuse system was the best solution for the township to have lead-free potable water. Harvesting rainwater is an efficient and cost-effective solution, acting as a substitute for using mains water.

One option was to supply the entire town with a single system, which at a cost of over half a million dollars exceeded the budget for the project. So TasWater embarked on a Service Replacement Program, the first of its kind in Tasmania, to provide and install rainwater tanks, pumps and any additional on-property works. The program also included installing individual firefighting tanks on each property, and an irrigation supply was also retained.

We designed small and robust individual rainwater reuse systems for each resident, with the package including a pressure pump with press controller and dual water filtration components, mounted in a pre-packaged enclosure. This ensured the project remained under budget while delivery safe water to the Pioneer residents.