This comes after utilities complained that 100 per cent purity would be "unrealistic".
The National Health and Medical Research Council's water-quality advisory committee has watered down its plan to deem the quality of drinking supplies as "satisfactory" only if all samples are free of E.coli bacteria.
After strong lobbying from the industry, which argued that a 100 per cent monitoring target would be "unrealistic" and "unachievable", the committee has opted to stick with the existing target of 98 per cent.
The committee's chairman, Don Bursill, said yesterday: "We decided to take a hard line . . . We thought we could bring in 100 per cent.
"But some regulators are not very receptive to a professional discussion between the regulator and the utilities, so we've come back a bit on that.
"We thought maybe we had stuck our nose out just a little further than we needed to be."
The revelation comes after a week of controversy over a report finding that E.coli had been found in processed drinking water at Sydney's $1.9 billion desalination plant at Kurnell.
It has been established that, on some days, the amount of E.coli in intake water at Kurnell exceeded by more than double the official guidelines for safe bathing.
The 100 per cent E.coli compliance target had been included in draft Australian Drinking Water Guidelines, which were being drawn up to replace the 2004 version.
Water Quality Research Australia (WQRA), an industry research body funded by utilities and universities, told the NHMRC committee that it was "extremely unlikely" any utility would achieve a target for every water sample to be free of E.coli.
"While utilities constantly strive towards the target of zero tolerance . . . in reality, even with the best managed systems, there is the occasional non-conformance, due to the nature of water supply systems and other events outside the control of the utilities, not because of poor management," the WQRA told the committee.
"Thus, it is extremely unlikely that any utility would ever be able to meet this compliance target even with exceptional diligence and high-quality practices in place. Non-compliance to such an unachievable target sends the wrong message to consumers and may cause unwarranted concern to the public," it says.
Professor Bursill, an internationally renowned water scientist, said the 98 per cent level would take into account any "false positives" for E.coli, which generally indicated faecal contamination and could cause gastroenteritis. "We're recognising that analytical methods do return a positive result from time to time and allowances have to be made for that," he said.
"There isn't any inference to say we are watering down the system."
Professor Bursill said utilities would still have to follow up any E.coli contamination.
An NHMRC spokeswoman said the final draft of the guidelines would not be released publicly until federal, state and territory resource ministers had considered them early next year.
ANU director of microbiology Peter Collignon demanded a 100 per cent compliance target. "The public has every right to expect that 100 per cent of the time, there is no faecal contamination of the water they're being supplied to drink," Professor Collignon said. "E.coli is used (for testing) because it is an indicator that faecal material has gone into your system, and it is a signal something may have gone wrong."
He said testing for E.coli would become more important as water utilities used more recycled sewerage or desalinated water, which could be exposed to more contaminants than dam water.
theaustralian.com.au 10 Nov 2010
The poisoning of the general population, AND covring up that it is safe, even though the bacteria is TWICE the recommended level for safe bathing LET ALONE drinking.
More government lies and cover ups exposed, BUT the sheep do nothing.