Safe Drinking Water Act 2001 (DHW 2022-23 Annual Report)

Part 8 – Miscellaneous

S 50 – Agreement and consultation with local government sector

  1. The Minister must take reasonable steps to consult with the LGA from time to time in relation to the administration and enforcement of this Act.
  2. If the Minister and the LGA enter into an agreement with respect to the exercise of functions under this Act by councils, then the Minister must prepare a report on the matter and cause copies of the report to be laid before both Houses of Parliament.
  3. A report under subsection (2) must be accompanied by a copy of any relevant written agreement between the Minister and the LGA.
  4. The Minister must consult with the LGA before a regulation that confers any function on councils is made under this Act.
  5. The annual report of the Minister under this Act must include a specific report on—
    1. the outcome of any consultation undertaken under subsection (1) or (4); and
    2. the operation of any agreement referred to in subsection (2).

S 51 – Annual report by Minister

  1. The Minister must, on or before 30 September in each year, prepare a report on the operation of this Act for the financial year ending on the preceding 30 June.
  2. The Minister must, within 6 sitting days after completing a report under subsection (1), cause copies of the report to be laid before both Houses of Parliament.

S 52 – Annual reports by enforcement agencies

  1. An enforcement agency (other than the Minister) must, on or before 30 September in each year, furnish to the Minister a report on the activities of the enforcement agency under this Act during the financial year ending on the preceding 30 June.
  2. The Minister must, within 6 sitting days after receiving a report under subsection (1), cause copies of the report to be laid before both Houses of Parliament.

The objectives of the Safe Drinking Water Act 2011 (the Act) and Safe Drinking Water Regulations 2012 (the Regulations) are to:

  • ensure that drinking water supplied to the South Australian public is safe
  • provide direction to drinking water providers on how to achieve a safe drinking water supply
  • implement principles of the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines 2011 (ADWG).

The Act requires:

  • registration of drinking water providers
  • development and implementation of Risk Management Plans (RMPs) for individual drinking water supplies including approved monitoring programs and incident protocols
  • audit or inspection of drinking water supplies
  • reporting of incidents to the department
  • provision of water quality results to the public on request.

The Department for Health and Wellbeing (the Department) administers the Act in partnership with local government. Annual reports of council activities are provided in Appendix 3. Within the Department, the Water Quality Unit is responsible for day-to-day administration of the Act with assistance from the Health Protection Operations and Food Safety and Audit sections.

Registration of drinking water providers

During 2022-23, the Department registered six new drinking water providers and ten drinking water providers cancelled their registration. At 30 June 2023, there were 177 drinking water providers registered with the Department. Some providers include multiple drinking water supplies under one registration. SA Water has a dual registration which includes a total of 85 water supplies while the Department for Education’s single registration includes 90 schools and preschools.

As required under Section 11 of the Act, the Department maintains a list of registered drinking water providers on the SA Health website. Councils are advised of drinking water providers within their area on a minimum annual basis.

Risk management plans

All drinking water providers must have a Risk Management Plan (RMP) that includes an approved monitoring program and an incident protocol. During 2022-23, the Department reviewed RMPs for new drinking water providers and provided assistance as required. Advice was also provided on the review and amendment of RMPs for existing providers where it was sought or required to rectify non-compliance identified as part of a drinking water inspection or audit.

Water quality incidents

Under Section 13 of the Act, a drinking water provider’s RMP must include a procedure for identifying, notifying, and responding to water quality incidents. The Department receives notification of incidents and provides advice and direction on remedial actions required to maintain safety of drinking water supplies.

Incidents reported by SA Water

SA Water incidents are reported according to the interagency Water/Wastewater Incident Notification and Communication Protocol (the Protocol). Under the Protocol the Department fulfils the role of the Water Incident Coordinator. Incidents are classified as Priority Type 1, Type 1 or Type 2 health incidents.

  • Priority Type 1 incidents are likely to require an immediate interagency meeting to develop responses and consider possible issuing of public advice. In the absence of appropriate interventions these incidents could cause serious risk to human health
  • Type 1 water quality incidents, in the absence of appropriate intervention could cause serious risk to human health
  • Type 2 incidents represent a low risk to human health but may provide preliminary warnings of more serious incidents.

During 2022-23, the Department received notification from SA Water of two Priority Type 1 incidents, 48 Type 1 incidents and 129 Type 2 incidents. The number of reported Type 1 incidents was similar to 2021-22 but there was an increase in the number of reported Type 2 incidents.

The Department coordinated communication and responses for all Priority Type 1 and Type 1 incidents and liaised with SA Water to ensure remedial actions or responses were implemented in a timely manner.

The two Priority Type 1 incidents during 2022-23 were for enteric protozoa detected in treated water samples. Both of these incidents were managed appropriately to prevent risks to public health.

The impact of the River Murray flooding event in December 2022 resulted in an increase in incidents particularly related to elevated levels of cyanobacteria and physical parameters such as turbidity of river water. Poor water quality in the flood waters presented treatment and disinfection challenges at water treatment plants and led to increases in concentrations of disinfection by-products. Despite these challenges drinking water safety was maintained.

High rainfall events led to a significant increase in the detections of enteric protozoa (Cryptosporidium and Giardia) in drinking water catchments and inlets to water treatment plants with 42 Type 2 incidents recorded. Performance targets at water treatment plants were consistently achieved during periods when protozoa detections were increased.

There were nine Type 1 and Type 2 incidents related to recreational use of reservoir reserves which was lower than the 20 detected in 2021-22. The incidents did not have an impact on drinking water quality.

There was a small increase in the number of detections of E. coli in drinking water samples in 2022-23. Appropriate remedial action was taken to minimise the impact to public health. Overall compliance from E. coli monitoring remained very high.

Other Type 1 incidents included:

  • elevated concentrations of disinfection by-products in drinking water
  • infrequent exceedances of health-related chemical guideline values
  • cross connections between drinking water and domestic rainwater tanks and / or stormwater
  • short-term interruptions to disinfection.

All water quality incidents were notified by SA Water in a timely manner. Appropriate remedial actions and responses were implemented following incidents to ensure the protection of public health was maintained at all times.

Incidents reported by other drinking water providers

In 2022-23 there were 13 drinking water incidents reported to the Department by providers other than SA Water.

There were five incidents due to the detection of E.coli in drinking water supplies sourced from rainwater tanks. In one case, users were advised not to drink water from the contaminated tank until remedial action was complete. An alternative supply was available. Remedial action included immediate tank inspections, checking of UV disinfection, cleaning of tanks, chlorination, pipework flushing and follow-up testing for E.coli. All follow-up samples were free from E.coli.

Four incidents of UV light disinfection or chlorination failure were reported in drinking water supplies. In one case failure of surface water chlorination led to the drinking water provider notifying customers not to drink the water until an investigation was completed and the quality of drinking was assured. In a second case, failure of UV light disinfection contributed to a supply being downgraded to non-drinking water status until significant remedial action was put in place.

Other incidents included short periods of sub-standard performance of reverse osmosis treatment of three different drinking water supplies and detection of dead birds in a drinking water storage tank. The tank was drained, cleaned, and disinfected before the supply was re-instated.

Approval of auditors and inspectors

Auditors and inspectors are approved under Section 15 of the Act in line with established competency criteria. Approval as either a Level 1 or 2 Auditor or Level 3 Inspector is based on technical skills and experience. The types of drinking water supply that can be audited or inspected by an individual are defined in approval conditions. In 2022-23, the Department:

  • approved one Level 2 Auditor and two Inspectors
  • reapproved three Level 1, seven Level 2 Auditors and three Inspectors following expiry of existing approvals
  • provided access to online drinking water quality training for local government employees
  • provided support for local government auditors and inspectors.

At 30 June 2023, there were 35 approved auditors and inspectors including independent auditors, Department staff and local government employees. The Department maintains a list of approved auditors and inspectors on the SA Health website.

Audits and inspections

The Act requires that all drinking water providers are subject to an audit or inspection every year or every two years as described in a schedule published in the Government Gazette. Reports of all audits and inspections are required to be submitted to the Department within 21 days of the audit or inspection being undertaken. Under Section 20(4) of the Act, the drinking water provider is responsible for ensuring the audit or inspection is carried out in accordance with the published schedule.

The Water Quality Unit oversees the audit and inspection program. Where possible drinking water audits and inspections are coordinated with the activities of the Health Protection Operation and Food Safety and Audit sections to reduce impacts on providers. Audits and inspections are also performed by local government and independent auditors. When needed, Dairysafe undertakes inspections of independent drinking water supplies used by dairy processors as part of existing food safety audit activities.

During 2022-23, the Department carried out a total of 32 audits and 22 inspections of drinking water supplies. The Department also received copies of five audit and eight inspection reports from local government and independent auditors including a comprehensive audit report of SA Water. The number of audits and inspections was similar to last year. Audits and inspections of drinking water providers rated as ‘high risk’ were prioritised during the reporting period (Table 1).

Audits and inspections led to advice being given to a number of drinking water providers about potential improvements to improve management of their drinking water supplies. Non-compliances identified in 2022-23 included incomplete or insufficient RMPs, failure to notify a water quality incident and lack of detail or absence of documentation relating to maintenance activities and water quality monitoring.

Table 1: Audits and inspections based on risk ratings

Audits and inspections based on risk ratings
Risk rating Gazetted schedule Categories of drinking water providers Number of provisions Audit and inspections
1 Yearly audit SA Water, Regulated Care, Childcare and Preschool 27 25
1 2 yearly audit Small surface water supplies 4 2
2 Yearly inspection Dairies 1 0
2 2 yearly audit Mining camps 13 4
2 2 yearly inspection Schools, Food premises, Food and accommodation premises, Primary producers, Small bore and rainwater supplies 70 19
3 Yearly audit Regulated care with additional treatment of mains water 12 6
3 2 yearly inspection Water Carters, On supply of mains water with additional treatment, Emergency supplies 50 11

177 67

Supply of drinking water from four supplies was suspended due to identification of substantial concerns:

  • One of the supplies was inundated by River Murray flood waters and customers were provided with carted drinking water as an alternative during this period. The Department worked with the provider in dealing with the closure and subsequent reinstatement following the flood subsiding. This included dealing with poor water quality of the flood waters.
  • Classification of two drinking water supplies was temporarily downgraded to non-drinking water status as a result of ongoing non-compliances, increased uncertainty over the accuracy of risk management plans, limited evidence of water quality and preventative maintenance data and lack of defined roles and responsibilities to manage the supplies. The Department worked closely with the providers to resolve the identified issues and they were subsequently returned to service as drinking water supplies.
  • Supply of drinking water by a fourth provider was suspended due to the identification of treatment plant faults and compromised integrity of two treated water storages. The Department worked closely with the drinking water provider to identify appropriate remedial action. A detailed assessment by an independent Level 1 Auditor, recommended by the Department, identified the need for significant works to upgrade the supply. It remains classified as a non-drinking water supply.

Follow-up processes including changes in inspection/audit frequencies were implemented by the Department as required to ensure compliance with the requirements of the Act. The Department maintains a database of non-compliances reported as an outcome of audit and inspection of drinking water providers.

Quality of water and provision of results

Under Section 27 of the Act, drinking water providers must make results of any monitoring program available to the public.

SA Water provides consumers with water quality information through publication of data on their website and in their annual report. Other drinking water providers can provide results to consumers on request by letter, email, or telephone.

Approval of laboratories

No laboratories were approved during the reporting period. Approved water quality testing laboratories are listed on the SA Health website.

Administration and enforcement

Part 7 of the Act incorporates enforcement provisions including the appointment of authorised officers with appropriate qualifications and experience by enforcement agencies. In addition, an Instrument of Authorisation was signed by the Minister in November 2019 giving authorised officers authority to issue expiation notices pursuant to the Expiation of Offences Act 1996 for offences committed under the Act and Regulations.

There were no new appointments made within the Department during 2022-23. At 30 June 2023, there were 15 authorised officers with all authorised to issue expiations. Authorised officers appointed by local government are provided in council annual reports (Appendix 3).

Consultation with the local government sector

Under Section 50 of the Act, the Minister must take reasonable steps to consult with the LGA from time to time in relation to the administration and enforcement of the Act. During 2022-23 the Department continued to support local councils in the administration and enforcement of the Act, undertaking routine drinking water audits and inspections and providing assistance with complex water quality issues. Training was arranged for council officers recently approved as auditors or inspectors.