Not for the first time since the bushfire crisis began, the Army has come to the aid of the Bega Valley region.

Recent rainfall has brought welcome relief to the drought-stricken Bega Valley communities and the rolling hills that were devastated by bushfires have returned to a shade of green.

The rain, however, brought with it an unfortunate flow-on effect from the bushfires, making the normally pristine water source for the north of the Bega Valley Shire undrinkable.

Bruce Powell is the Water and Sewerage Services Operations Superintendent at Bega Valley Shire Council.

“Sadly, after the fires went through the large catchment that feeds the Brogo Dam and heavy rainfall followed, the water in the river went from about 1 NTU to 600 NTU in 75 minutes,” Mr Powell said.

NTU (Nephelometric Turbidity Units) of turbidity from a calibrated nephelometer is a key test of water quality.

“We need to keep our water under 5 NTU,” Mr Powell said.

“Since the fires went through and we’ve had heavy rain, we’ve got ash and other debris coming down the river, which has impacted the water quality from that catchment.

Unable to purify the dam water, the Bega Valley Shire Council imposed Level 4 water restrictions and resorted to transporting drinking water from Bega to supply residents in the north of the shire.

“It’s an extremely expensive process,” Mr Powell said.

This water purification system is the single most important thing that the ADF will deliver for the Bega Valley Shire Council to assist in keeping our community safe.

“We’re providing about one million litres a day of drinking water from the Bega supply to Brogo Tank One, round the clock, 24/7, at a cost of approximately $30,000 a day.”

With the ability to provide a more sustainable solution, the Army’s 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment set up a water purification and desalination system (WPDS) next to Brogo Tank One in mid-February.

Capable of turning any water source into fresh drinking water, Australian Army WPDSs are normally used to supply drinking water during major ADF exercises and deployments.

Each system can operate with raw water of up to 500 NTU and provide clean, chlorinated water at 0.2 NTU.

Running 24 hours a day since being installed, the Army’s WPDS has produced up to 400,000 litres a day to help supplement the shire’s drinking water supplies while the Bega Valley Shire Council works to establish a longer term solution.

In the first week of operation, the WPDS produced more than 2.5 megalitres (2.5 million litres).

A second WPDS has since been set up to further supplement the shire’s drinking water supplies.

Anthony McMahon, Director, Assets and Operations at Bega Valley Shire Council, emphasised the importance of the capability and what the Army’s WPDSs meant to the Bega Valley community.

 “This water purification system is the single most important thing that the ADF will deliver for the Bega Valley Shire Council to assist in keeping our community safe,” Mr McMahon said.

To watch video of the operation, go to: https://youtu.be/3vFRfkdxstE