Boil water direction didn’t get through to everyone

Confusion filtered through Tumut, Adelong and Cloverdale (Morgan’s Reserve Road) last week after a precautionary boil water notice was issued by Snowy Valleys Council.

The notice was issued via social media, as well as other media channels, just after noon on Friday, August 28 due to a brief turbidity issue (“dirty water”) which was observed at the water treatment plant. 

The notice was lifted as of 1pm on September 1.

“The impact on the water quality in the wider reticulation system was unknown, [so] the boil water notice was issued as a precautionary measure while testing was undertaken,” said a SVC spokesperson. “This testing confirmed that the water quality was not impacted and the notice was lifted accordingly.”

Although there was no impact to water quality, Tumut/Adelong residents and tourists were thrown into some confusion and anxiety as word spread slowly and many people found themselves caught out.

“We didn’t get notified,” said Valmar CEO Hugh Packard. 

“Luckily, one of our staff saw and sent an all staff email around, alerting people to it.

“It took time to disseminate the information throughout the organisation.”

Mr Packard said that with multiple locations through Adelong and Tumut, it was challenging to notify everyone at Valmar’s group homes during the middle of the day, but Valmar “did what we could as soon as we knew.”

Mr Packard said in all his time as CEO he hadn’t had this type of issue come up before, but he was hopeful that the council would revise their communications strategy moving forward.

“It would probably be better to have some much more structured way of doing it,” he said. “I would think if they were going to issue that sort of alert, it would be great if it was formally communicated to us, the hospital, Blakeney Lodge and Bupa, because we all work with vulnerable people. It’s probably a good idea to set something up to have that happen.”

Bupa representatives similarly said their first notice came from a staff member checking social media. 

“We contacted the council directly for more information after being made aware of the issue on social media,” said a Bupa spokesperson. 

“We immediately brought in extra bottled water to ensure we were well stocked until the issue was resolved.” 

SVC said their communications strategy for the precautionary notice was distributed to the wider community via:

• Council’s facebook page audience of over 5,100 followers, with each post reaching in excess of 5,000 people thanks to high engagement and sharing amongst users

• Sounds of the Mountain Radio –  a live read of the notice took place every hour to hour and half from Friday afternoon and continued after the notice was lifted until Wednesday afternoon.

• Council’s website

• Local print media

 SVC also said that “beyond community-wide information dissemination, targeted communication was provided to 57 healthcare, education facilities, food businesses (including restaurants and cafes), NSW Health, Murrumbidgee Local Health and other premises identified as ‘vulnerable’ within the affected area.”

The SVC spokesperson said the council’s customer service made this contact via telephone to “provide information about the notice directly.”

Tourists camping in the area said they were concerned when they learned about the notice partway through their weekend in Tumut, after parents and young children had been drinking the local water straight out of the taps.