The advice and resources on this page have been provided for public information and to assist the water sector in responding to emerging water issues in the absence of official NHMRC advice.
Expert and jurisdictional advice has been sought in the preparation of this information, such as consultation with members of NHMRC advisory committees (Water Quality Advisory Committee, Recreational Water Quality Advisory Committee) and the Environmental Health Standing Committee (enHealth) Water Quality Expert Reference Panel. Information will be periodically removed from the webpage where there is no longer a need for the advice. Please read our Disclaimer for more information. For further information on these water quality issues please contact your state or territory health authority or drinking water regulator.
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and drinking water
This information has been developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and aligns with jurisdictional advice provided to NHMRC from members of the enHealth Water Quality Expert Reference Panel. The information is current as of 18 March 2020.
Community drinking water supplies in Australia are treated so that they are safe to drink. This process does not change with the emergence of COVID-19. The safety of drinking water supplied to Australians is regulated by the states and territories under a comprehensive regulatory framework that aims to ensure a consistent, reliable supply of safe, good quality drinking water. This is based on the risk management framework provided in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (2011).
There is no evidence that drinking water supplies will be affected by COVID-19. Standard water and wastewater treatment and disinfection processes used to control pathogen transmission via water routes are expected to be effective on COVID-19. No additional water treatment measures are currently recommended in regard to COVID-19.
There are several resources available to the water sector on COVID-19 and water and sanitation. These are frequently updated and include:
- WHO: COVID19
- Water Research Australia: SARS-CoV-2 Water and Sanitation Factsheet Update
- Water services association of Australia: COVID-19 Fact Sheet
Further information on COVID-19 can be found at the Department of Health's website. Information specific to the state or territory can be found on local health department websites.
Bushfires and impacts on water quality
This information was developed in response to the 2020 Australian bushfire crisis and aligns with current jurisdictional advice provided to NHMRC by the enHealth Water Quality Expert Reference Panel. The information is current as of 24 January 2020.
Water quality can be impacted by bushfires. Ash sediment and other debris, fire retardants and dead animals are some of the things that can contaminate drinking water supplies and recreational water sites—especially if a bushfire event is followed by heavy rainfall. It is important to be aware of these risks, particularly if you are managing your own drinking water supplies. In addition, affected drinking water can be more difficult for water utilities to treat, especially if there has been loss of or damage to existing infrastructure.
Community drinking water supplies are regularly monitored by local drinking water authorities (either state or local government) to ensure that the water is safe to drink—you will receive alerts and advice if your local drinking water supply has been affected. If you are managing your own water supply (e.g. rainwater tanks or other private water sources) and are concerned that your water source has been contaminated, an alternative source (e.g. bottled water) should be used until your original supply is safe to use again. For further information on the impact of bushfires on water quality and some actions you can take please see:
- Rainwater and Bushfires - NSW Ministry of Health
- Bushfires and Water Quality - Water Quality Australia
Recreational waters with large amounts of debris from bushfires may also be unsafe for recreational activities, including fishing and foraging and consuming the catch. Please be aware of these risks and follow directions from local authorities who manage these sites.