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Melbourne moves to protect water supply -

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Reporter: Rachael Brown

ELEANOR HALL: Melbourne's water authority is relocating the water in some of its storage sites to
allow catchments in fire affected areas to recover.

Authorities say they don't yet know the full extent of the damage but that they are taking
precautions to stop pollutants like ash seeping into the storage areas.

In Melbourne, Rachael Brown reports.

RACHAEL BROWN: Victoria's bushfires have burnt close to a number of catchments and the State
Government is worried any rain could push ash and debris into the water.

Some fires continue to burn near catchments but are contained.

The Water Minister, Tim Holding, says others have been substantially damaged.

TIM HOLDING: In the O'Shannassy about 90 per cent of the catchment has been burned. In the
Maroondah catchment, about 40 per cent or thereabouts has been burned.

In the Upper Yarra it is a much smaller per cent; the fire's actually to the north and north-west
of the catchment so we have lost probably a little bit less than two per cent of that catchment and
the Tarago catchment which is not connected to Melbourne's storage system at this stage but which
is expected to be connected in the next few months, that has lost about 50 per cent.

RACHAEL BROWN: Ten-billion litres of drinking water is being pumped to the safer Cardinia storage,
while the extent of catchment damage is assessed

Melbourne Water's Rob Skinner says there's still enough unaffected water to meet demand.

ROB SKINNER: There has been no threat to the amount of water or availability of water at this
stage.

RACHAEL BROWN: Authorities say any water that is contaminated won't be lost; it will just take a
few months to regain its purity.

And Minister Holding says the next rainfall will be telling.

TIM HOLDING: We'd be hoping that rain, when it comes, comes in relatively predictable, even rain
events. Not in intense sudden rain events. The more intense the rain event in the next few months,
the more likely that we are to draw pollutants into our, you know, ash and other fire debris into
our storages.

RACHAEL BROWN: For the moment, it seems he'll get his wish, with the weather bureau's Phil King
predicting only very light rains this week in catchment areas.

PHIL KING: Probably we will see some rain through Gippsland in the order of ten or 20 millimetres
but closer to our catchment it is unlikely that we will get much out of that - just a few
millimetres.

And then later in the week we will see another system move through on the Friday and into the
Saturday and again it looks that the shower activity with that will be isolated. So falls generally
in the single figure range and when we get falls like that, generally most of that soaks into the
catchment and doesn't lead to runoff.

RACHAEL BROWN: Another issue that reignites around bushfire time is whether fire fighting
retardants, like the red coloured PhosCheck, have any detrimental effects on the water supplies

This morning, Minister Holding flatly ruled out any possibility of that

TIM HOLDING: The fire retardants that we use are essentially non-toxic. They are fire retardants
that are used all around the world for fire-fighting. They contain a red dye in them so that
fire-fighters can see where exactly that they have been deployed.

And they are really a fire-fighting support mechanism. They are used in relatively small quantities
and they don't have any impact on water quality whatsoever.

RACHAEL BROWN: The Department of Sustainability and Environment won't reveal if retardants have
been used in catchment areas this time, but says if they have been, the only short-term affect
would be water saltiness

But many locals in fire-affected areas would disagree

The local CFA captain at Licola in Victoria's high country has been running a campaign for years
saying PhosCheck could be responsible for many health problems.

And the Australian Workers Union's Sam Beechy says not enough research has been done to prove
otherwise.

SAM BEECHY: You know, people were warned to disconnect their rain water tanks because it is not a
healthy thing to have mixed, certainly in a concentrated form, in rainwater tanks. So one would
assume that if it was going to be used in the Melbourne catchment areas, Melbourne water catchment
areas well then, there would be a level of discolouration to the water.

Now I don't know that the levels would be high enough to be harmful to human consumption but it
certainly wouldn't look very good.

RACHAEL BROWN: And I understand a couple of years ago, you had some concerns about marine life in
areas that were affected by PhosCheck.

SAM BEECHY: Well, you know, it just seems coincidental that, you know, we have suffered a lot of
dolphin losses on the Gippsland Lakes and there has been inexplicable deaths of marine, other
marine life, fish and those sorts of things.

Now you can't, I wouldn't be game enough to blame PhosCheck entirely, but it just seems to be that
after a heavy use of that, it certainly must be a contributor.

ELEANOR HALL: That is Sam Beechy from the Australian Workers Union ending that report by Rachael
Brown.