“I suppose that’s the cows we can smell here,” an interstate friend suggested to me as we were wandering around the Alice Springs Show on Friday last week.
“No,” I said. “That’s human poo you’re smelling.”
The odour was wafting in from the sewage ponds next-door to the showgrounds on a gentle westerly breeze, putting a dampner on the joys of the great annual event for two-thirds of the town’s population who were there.
It was another anecdote in the sad saga of Power and Water’s management of the town’s waste, underlining corporate spin that has reached new heights.
The poor tourist season and the consistently dry weather notwithstanding, the evaporation ponds aren’t keeping up with the discharge from the town.
The plant produces fluids of varying degrees of purification – none to the extent of being drinkable.
Let’s look at two of them.
One is used for irrigating the show grounds’ grassed areas and a lucerne patch within Blatherskite Park where horses are grazing.
That water comes from the ponds and is processed further through a Dissolved Air Flotation (DAF) plant.
“The system is designed to ensure plant water is not intended to be used where human contact occurs,” says a P&W spokeswoman.
And: “Spray irrigation is limited to times outside of public use.”
In other words, human contact with that water is to be avoided.
But what about the water that is released into Ilparpa swamp, and from there makes its way into St Mary’s Creek, and – open to anyone – flows under the Stuart Highway, past St Mary’s home for children, the new complex of transitional housing, a place where babies are born, and to Pioneer Park racecourse.
P&W has a cute way of describing that water: It “has completed final treatment through waste stabilisation ponds”.
Excuse me? Should that not be: “It has only completed treatment through waste stabilisation ponds?”
So while water used for irrigating Blatherskite Park is not fit for human contact, although it has passed through the DAF plant, effluent straight out of the ponds is allowed into public places.