Key messages

  • Water suppliers can seek exemptions from water quality standards.
  • Water suppliers should consult with the affected community before applying for an exemption.
  • The Minister for Health may approve applications with certain conditions.

Section 20 of the Safe Drinking Water Act 2003 allows water suppliers to seek exemptions from the drinking water quality standards. The current standards are specified in r. 12 of the Safe Drinking Water Regulations 2015.

With an exemption, water suppliers do not need to meet a specified quality standard during the exemption period. However, they still need to minimise risks and monitor the exempted parameter.

For example, if a bushfire occurs in a catchment area, the supplier may apply for an exemption from the turbidity standard of 5 NTU until the sediment has passed. During the exemption period, the supplier continues to monitor turbidity.

Exemption applications

Use the Application for exemption: drinking water quality standards form to apply for an exemption. You need to provide information as specified in s. 20(2) of the Act, which includes:

  • the standard to be exempted from the water supply locality or water supply in which the exemption is sought and the reasoning behind the exemption
  • the period during which the exemption would apply and the reasoning for that period
  • any benefits and adversities the exemption is likely to introduce
  • the risk prevention measures that will be taken if the application is approved
  • a description of the consultation that has taken place regarding the proposal with a summary of the input provided.

Water suppliers should consult with the affected community beforehand through community meetings, media notices or newsletters. Exemption applications should include copies of relevant documents and correspondence used for public consultation.

Application outcome

The Department of Health and Human Services reviews exemption applications and makes recommendations to the Minister for Health. Under s. 20(3) of the Act, the Minister may approve an application if they are satisfied that:

  • adequate measures will be taken to minimise any public health risks
  • the affected community has been adequately consulted
  • the benefits of the exemption outweigh the impacts (including the likely costs).

Applicants are notified in writing whether their application has been approved or rejected.

Exemption conditions

Under s. 21 of the Act, approved exemptions may include certain conditions, such as a timeframe for the exemption.

Conditions may be specified when the exemption is approved, or at a later date with written notice from the Minister.