Farm water quality – testing and treating for stock and domestic use

How do I know if the water on my property is suitable for domestic purposes or stock supplies?

Farm water can come from a variety of different sources and so its quality can vary. Water sources include:

  • surface water - farm dams, rivers, streams, irrigation channels
  • groundwater - bores, wells
  • town water – drinking water, recycled water

Some of the water on your farm may be of an unsuitable quality for its intended use for irrigation, stock, or other domestic and farm activities. It is therefore important that you identify and correct water quality problems that may impact on-farm use and productivity.

During drought, water quality issues are more commonplace. This is generally because when the water supplies on your property start to become low, salinity, pH and chemicals can reach higher than normal concentrations, and in surface water supplies algal blooms can occur, all of which have the potential to be harmful.

More information

Is my water suitable for drinking?

Due to the potential for contamination, surface water is not recommended as a source of drinking water unless filtered and disinfected.

Unless drinking water quality can be assured through disinfection and routine testing, surface water should only be utilised for purposes other than drinking such as toilet flushing, garden watering and irrigation. Treatment may still be necessary for such non-drinking uses.

Groundwater poses less of a risk but can still be contaminated with disease causing microorganisms, chemicals, heavy metals and radioactivity. Your groundwater and surface water should undergo comprehensive water quality testing to ensure suitability for drinking water purposes.

Rainwater can be a suitable drinking water supply and is less likely to cause illness in most users, however it can become contaminated and therefore filtration and disinfection may be necessary. Tanks can be filled with carted town water. Water carters should be registered with council and have a quality assurance plan, which should give confidence in the water quality you receive.

NSW Health (who are the authority on testing and treating water quality for human consumption) has prepared a series of fact sheets on treating surface water, groundwater and rainwater for domestic purposes.

For advice on drinking water quality call 1300 066 055 and ask to speak with an Environmental Health Officer in your local Public Health Unit.

What are the water requirements of my livestock?

For the well-being of your stock and your hip pocket it is important to know the quality and quantity requirements of your livestock and how to treat your water if necessary. The amount and quality of water required varies between species of livestock and in response to the environment in which the stock are running.

Fact sheets have been developed for primary producers wanting to know more about:

How do I collect a water quality sample and where do I send it?

The NSW Health website provides information on a water supply testing service (www.health.nsw.gov.au) available to the general public to test the safety of your water through the NSW Health Pathology Laboratory in Sydney.

This webpage includes resources explaining what the service includes, how to take samples and interpreting the results of your sample. There are also commercial laboratories throughout NSW that provide water quality testing. Ensure you choose one that is NATA accredited.

NATA accredited laboratories that provide drinking water testing services include:

DPI chemistry testing laboratories operate a world-class water testing service for farmers and graziers to determine the suitability of their water for agricultural and domestic applications. Water testing is carried out at the Wollongbar Primary Industries Institute NATA accredited laboratory. To find out more about the tests available, the type of tests you should be requesting, pricing, obtaining sampling kits and submitting your sample, go to water quality testing or contact customer service.

How do I interpret the results of my water quality test for livestock?

Factsheets on interpreting water quality test results, both for livestock and for common water quality issues, are available here:

How do I get access to groundwater supplies?

If you want to take groundwater for domestic and stock use and your land overlies an aquifer, you are required to obtain a water supply work approval to construct a water bore, well or spear point. That fact sheet includes information about obtaining a licence and where and how to drill a bore.

In some circumstances, your groundwater may have high salt concentrations and be unsuitable for use either in the house or garden, or for livestock consumption. Desalination of this water is an option and might be a feasible option for some some producers. Read more: Desalination of bore water for stock and domestic purposes.

Where do I get water when my surface and groundwater supply dries up?

If the stock and domestic water on your property dries up or is of insufficient quality for its intended purpose, access to an alternative water source might be necessary.

Emergency standpipes and water filling stations are located across NSW and are a practical alternative for accessing water for domestic and stock purposes. These sites are managed by local councils or water utilities and are maintained to meet bulk water carting requirements. Conditions of use and access vary across council regions. Your local shire council or water utility can help establish:

  • if water is available locally
  • where water is and how much is available
  • what approvals you need.

Is funding available for carting water?

The Emergency Drought Relief Package includes $190 million for Drought Transport Subsidies. The subsidy can be applied for the cost of transporting water to a property for stock.

Applications can be made on the Rural Assistance Authority website.