Legislative Council

QUESTION: Groundwater Contamination

August 8th, 2017

On the 8th of August 2017, Mark asked the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation a question about groundwater contamination.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: The minister will be well aware of an article in The Advertiser — from overnight, in fact — entitled, 'Groundwater contamination in seven [sites] prompts EPA to consider banning extraction of bore water'. This is not a new issue. The commentary in the media does refer to the fact that, over the last five or more years, residents of the inner south-western suburbs have known about potential contamination. However, the EPA is now looking at consolidating some of the known trouble spots and considering whether a permanent ban on extraction of bore water in those locations is appropriate. I welcome those moves. One thing that struck me in some of the media commentary this morning on the radio was that the relevant EPA officer said:

…we know that most people in the area don't use groundwater. It would be only as low as maybe 3% of households might have a bore. The challenge is we don't know where they all are.

My questions of the minister are:

1. Having faced these problems in these areas for so many years, how is it that we still do not know exactly who does or does not have a groundwater bore?

2. Will the government now undertake a thorough audit of the 5,000 or perhaps 7,000 or so homes in the affected area to determine exactly who does or doesn't have a backyard groundwater bore?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change): Pushing the boundaries, Hon. Mark Parnell, by three seconds, I think. I thank the honourable member for his most important question. He is right: the EPA has been doing work with local communities about access to groundwater over a number of years now. The EPA is now consulting, as the honourable member outlined in his preamble, with the local community as to whether we should have a permanent ban on taking groundwater either across Adelaide or in those areas of Adelaide that we know have been impacted potentially by TCE and other contaminants from past and historic industrial practice.

We do have a record of licensed bores because, as you would expect, bores need to be licensed but, as you would also expect, there would be a number of illegally drilled bores over the last 50 years or so, some of them still active, some of them not. Many of them would have collapsed; because of the nature of illegal drilling, they would not have been done to specification and would have been second class at best.

We have undertaken some analyses of certain areas, particularly those where we had concerns about TCE contamination, for example. Also understandably, the honourable member might reckon that a lot of people won't fess up. So, we can knock on their door and ask them, as we have done in some places, I think, but some of them are less than willing to come forward with that information because they may have to pay a licence fee or, indeed, remediate a dangerous situation.

There is probably no way that we would know with any high degree of accuracy where all the bores are, but we think we probably know where most of them are. I understand the agency has also looked at some aerial photography identifying some wet, greenish areas, but that is only predictive, it is not conclusive.

I think the answer will have to be that the EPA is working on it. They have a fairly high level of confidence that they know where most of the bores are. There is always a propensity that someone will escape our attention for those reasons I have outlined but, again, that is where the education comes in: consulting with the community and educating them about what the danger may well be, that they may face if they actually take water and use it inappropriately, and relying on their good sense not to do so.

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