Food and water security are major areas of concern for the Walgett community, and the Dharriwaa Elders Group and the Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service (WAMS) have been working to improve access to fresh food and safe drinking water in Walgett for many years. In 2018, DEG requested UNSW’s assistance with the testing of Walgett drinking water, after community concerns about its quality since the local Shire Council switched the town water source from the river to bore water due to the drought. Tests by Assoc. Professor Martin Andersen of the UNSW Global Water Institute confirmed that the Walgett drinking water was high in sodium. Professor Jacqui Webster from the George Institute for Global Health advised that this is of particular concern for people living with chronic disease. Subsequent advocacy by the Dharriwaa Elders Group saw significant media coverage on this issue, leading to the NSW Government committing to installing reverse osmosis systems to remove salt from Walgett as well as Bourke’s drinking water. The problems with drinking water quality were exacerbated when critical infrastructure failed, and people in Walgett were left without water to drink or operate air conditioning in the middle of summer. In 2019, Yuwaya Ngarra-li held a Food Forum at Walgett high school. The aims of the Food Forum were to:

  • Provide data and research about what is known about food issues relevant to Aboriginal people in Walgett and impacts on long-term health and wellbeing
  • Gather community members and critical services, organisations, and other stakeholders together to discuss food issues in Walgett
  • Facilitate a public forum that is action oriented and focused on positive strategies and evidence-based solutions Staff from local Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, council staff, teachers, gardeners, food retailers and other concerned local residents, including Elders from the DEG, raised issues to do with food supply, drinking water, growing food locally and the effect of food choices on physical and mental health.

A report of the Food Forum can be found here, which includes the many suggestions raised throughout the forum of possible strategies and solutions. Since the Food Forum, Yuwaya Ngarra-li has been focused on building its ‘Food and Water for Life Program’, which aims to address food and water insecurity issues, poor drinking water, costly and poor quality food available in Walgett, and the associated health and wellbeing issues in Walgett.

The urgency of this work was highlighted after Walgett’s only supermarket burnt down and local food shortages during COVID. Since 2021, the Food and Water for Life Program has been boosted by a five year NHMRC grant (2021-2025) Food and Water for Life: co-creation and evaluation of sustainable innovations to strengthen food and water security with collaborators from UNSW and the George Institute for Global Health. In collaboration with WAMS, we seek to enable community-led sustainable food and water initiatives that will be run by and employ Aboriginal people, and ensure healthy drinking water and fresh nutritious food produced locally for years to come.

Walgett's RO System - inoperable
Walgett's RO System - inoperable because the brine waste is yet to be accommodated

Walgett is on the confluence of two major rivers, the Baawan and the Ngamaay (Namoi).  Despite this, Walgett is often without river water because of upstream irrigation and the way the rivers are managed

by water agencies.

Walgett has a 2271 mega litre Local Water Utility licence on the Lower Namoi Regulated River. However, since 2016 Walgett has been able to use water from this licence only twice. In every other year Walgett’s access to town water from this licence has been zero mega litres.

When upstream irrigation extractions stop the river flowing, or base flows and essential supplies are not released from Keepit Dam, Walgett’s Local Water Utility licence is not large enough to deliver water to Walgett.

Walgett’s Local Water Utility licence is enough only for the town’s needs. It is not enough to convey that water to Walgett (i.e. transmission losses also need to be accounted for).

Without water from the river Walgett relies on groundwater from the Great Artesian Basin, which has high levels of Sodium.

Despite the Objects of the NSW Water Management Act 2000, in the last decade all categories of irrigation water in the Namoi Valley, including floodplain harvesting and supplementary take, have been more reliable than Walgett town water.

The rivers at Walgett are often polluted by blue-green algae, nutrients and other potentially harmful chemicals that enter the river from upstream industries.

Currently Gingie Village’s water supply is permanently sourced from the Great Artesian Basin, is not potable and has a higher level of sodium than the water delivered to town and Namoi Villages.