Why do land managers say to treat water?

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Why do land managers say to treat water?

Postby Lophophaps » Sun 13 Jan, 2019 8:54 pm

There are some more remote parts of Australia where water is heavily polluted, and some parts where water is pristine. The polluted water tends to be downstream of built-up areas, farms, factories and the like, or near mines, operating or closed. There are also some places that have a lot of visitors and no toilets, like parts of the Overland Track.

In the last 15 years or so, land managers have advised that all water should be treated. This makes sense if the water quality is suspect. It makes less sense for wild water, well away from OLT-type volumes of visitors.

Two reasons have been suggested to me for the "treat all" advice. The first is that this is a CYA policy - if visitors get sick then land managers can say that they said to treat the water. I saw this on Johnnies Top where a tank that had a sign "Drinking water" changed to "Rain water". There was a sign for both "Untreated rainwater do not drink". Right, put in a tank and then say not to drink it ...

The second reason is that some people are said to react badly to water from remote sources that has not been treated like that for piped city water.

Apart from water that is polluted, do the above two reasons have merit? Is anyone aware of adverse reactions to what very much appears to be clean remote water? Is there any science to support this?
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Re: Why do land managers say to treat water?

Postby ChrisJHC » Sun 13 Jan, 2019 9:55 pm

It’s much more likely to be CYA than anything else.
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Re: Why do land managers say to treat water?

Postby Xplora » Mon 14 Jan, 2019 6:17 am

I know many people who drink from rivers which they think are clean. Rafting on the Mitta with a TAFE group and the students told me it was OK to drink the water. No thanks.
defecation Middle Creek Bridge2.jpg
defecation Middle Creek Bridge2.jpg (127.38 KiB) Viewed 5654 times

Found this the other day beside the Mitta.
Apart from the increased human traffic in many places we have lots of other nasty things entering waterways. Possums love rooftops and they carry giardia and crypto. Rainwater is collected from rooftops. Deer, wild dogs, pigs and other animals all excrete things which can make you sick. There is no way a land manager can guarantee any water is safe unless is has been treated to be potable. You can either treat the water yourself or take the informed risk. My partner has been through the giardia thing and does not want to do that again. We have drunk from a couple of streams or springs in the mountains and have not had any issue but was that because we were lucky? Who knows. The things that cause this are microscopic so clear, running water is not an indication it is safe. I agree with the land managers. In this day and age they need to protect themselves from litigation.
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Re: Why do land managers say to treat water?

Postby ChrisJHC » Mon 14 Jan, 2019 10:11 am

I guess the other approach is to decide whether the risk of getting an upset stomach is worth saving yourself a little time and bother.
I am personally happy to wait a bit to reduce the chance of getting sick and ruining a walk.

The only times I don't treat are when there is a water tank that collects from the adjoining structure or where the tanks are filled from a local potable water supply (eg the Larapinta).
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Re: Why do land managers say to treat water?

Postby Lophophaps » Mon 14 Jan, 2019 10:32 am

Xplora and Chris, good points. I do not regard the Mitta Mitta as wild water - too many people. It would be interesting to see the results of a series of water tests over several years at places like Taylors Crossing. Even one test may inform. I'm quite happy to treat water if the need is there.

This picture is the sign on the Johnnies Top tank. This is the only water for about four hours in any direction, and is at the top of a big hill. Why have a water tank and then say not to drink it? CYA seems right. There's similar signs at other Victorian huts.
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Re: Why do land managers say to treat water?

Postby rcaffin » Mon 14 Jan, 2019 10:33 am

99.9% CYA.
Can't blame them though.

I own many different sort of filters and UV systems. I rarely use any of them. But some places demand it.

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Re: Why do land managers say to treat water?

Postby CBee » Mon 14 Jan, 2019 11:02 am

Water is one of the most precious things we have. Individuals who care about water should make the effort to educate as many people as possible, to respect it and protect it. Nowadays we have many options to drink safe water, from a multitude kind of filters and purification systems, so that is not an issue. I think land managers should also make a bigger effort towards education, on the top of building signs to protect themselves from liability.
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Re: Why do land managers say to treat water?

Postby flingebunt » Wed 16 Jan, 2019 5:49 pm

Most of the pollution is bacteria, especially giardia, which is transmitted through live stock, though it can cross into humans and wildlife. Your purification tabs, water filter or boiling treats this.

Another source of pollution is urban or rural run off, which means thinks like pesticides and herbicides in the water. Eg, don't drink the water here, even if boiled, filtered or treated with tablets. I think carbon filters can remove some pollutants in this case.

Finally there is algae blooms, which can be caused by run off from fertilisers. This can put poison in the water as well.

Oh, also they like to say this as a legal warning to cover themselves.
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Re: Why do land managers say to treat water?

Postby north-north-west » Thu 17 Jan, 2019 7:50 am

rcaffin wrote:99.9% CYA.
Can't blame them though.

I own many different sort of filters and UV systems. I rarely use any of them. But some places demand it.


Exactly. I've never filtered water in Tassie, nor tank water anywhere.
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Re: Why do land managers say to treat water?

Postby Al M » Sun 17 Feb, 2019 1:38 am

Here’s the science reasons on why treat drinking water https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinki ... eases.html

A part of my job is to test water supplies and something as harmless looking as a rain water tank collects animal droppings, decaying vegetation and microbes, fungi and slime that you don’t see inside the tank that can grow and increase in numbers in the millions that can affect people. Most times you will be ok but one is never sure. I have drunk my own urban rainwater and had mild diarrhoea on ocassions. It’s a matter of statistics you could drink chlorined tap water 1000 times and not have issues but drink untreated water and you could be sick 50 in 1000 times which is not acceptable as a civilised solution.

A typical rainwater tank 100mL volume sample test would show something like 50 - 3000+ general bacteria that do no harm, 20 - 100 E. Coli faecal bacteria indicating bird droppings that might cause diarrhoea, fair bit of slime organisms. In more polluted situations it could be worse with about 100000 to over 1million normal bugs that can cause diarrhoea and up to 1000 e.coli and even some giardia and crypto bugs that give serious diarrhoea in 70% of people. In tropical Aust regions there are more exotic bugs like hydatid tapeworms and cysts that will really give trouble.

I travelled a lot as backpacker overseas and trekked a lot and got really sick many times like giardia 8 times, numerous mild diarrhoea episodes and salmonella food poisoning so very much on guard even hiking in Australia.
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Re: Why do land managers say to treat water?

Postby rcaffin » Sun 17 Feb, 2019 11:36 am

Yes, many rainwater tanks may/will have a few things in them. BUT - is it best to only drink triple-distilled lab water, or to drink 'clean' rainwater and build up some immunity?

Unless your body is regularly challenged, it will lose all defenses. Your immune system will fade away, and you will become susceptible to every passing-in-the-air bug. Look up 'bubble boy' for what can go really wrong. We live on a farm and rely on our rainwater tanks for drinking and cooking. To be sure there is some stuff in them. We used to drink from our dam, but with all the ducks, grebes, coots, tortoises, water dragons and smaller critters, it got a bit too meaty and we had the rainwater tanks. We still swim in the dam of course, especially during the heatwaves.

We have been drinking from our rainwater tanks for maybe 40 years, with no recorded problems. Fwiiw, I still use the dam water to clean my teeth. Landowners - it's CYA. Filter vendors - it's a commercial (profit) drive. In the bush - just check the headwaters a bit for human poo.

The little creek besides Whites River Hut used to be really bad for Giardia. The long-drop toilet there had a rotten floor which looked utterly unsafe, so everyone poo'd nearby - upstream of the water take pipe. But the toilet has since been replaced. Hum - we still get our water from way upstream there!

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Re: Why do land managers say to treat water?

Postby devoswitch » Mon 18 Feb, 2019 3:49 pm

north-north-west wrote:
rcaffin wrote:99.9% CYA.
Can't blame them though.

I own many different sort of filters and UV systems. I rarely use any of them. But some places demand it.


Exactly. I've never filtered water in Tassie, nor tank water anywhere.


Yeah I’m the same NNW, I have literally not treated water once in the 6 years I have been walking in Tasmania and I collect it from all types of sources. Some common sense goes a long way. Always take from upstream of track etc...
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Re: Why do land managers say to treat water?

Postby Orion » Mon 18 Feb, 2019 4:26 pm

With regards to "building up immunity" it's possible that some forms of immunity are local. That is, if you're drinking the water in your area you may have a tolerance for the bugs that tend to live in it. As a visitor, even though I don't live in a bubble at home, I wonder if I might be susceptible to something in the water elsewhere. The only way I know to test the hypothesis is to expose myself. But given limited time on a visit I'm understandably hesitant to perform the experiment.

So I treat most of the water knowing full well that it's probably not necessary the vast majority of the time, maybe all of the time. Fortunately dropping in a water tablet is relatively simple, quick, and inexpensive.

But if I lived there I'd do the experiment.
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Re: Why do land managers say to treat water?

Postby skibug » Mon 18 Feb, 2019 11:27 pm

I say to my students "you'll never know if there is a dead animal somewhere upstream in the water", let alone faeces or other biological contamination, so always treat. I have not had Giardia myself, but have seen trekkers in Nepal suffering from it, and never want to risk getting it. Water treatment is the equivalent of wearing a seat belt or bike helmet, carrying a compass or repair kit, using sun screen or gaiters - it's a minor inconvenience to avoid major possible problems.

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Re: Why do land managers say to treat water?

Postby rcaffin » Wed 20 Feb, 2019 3:30 pm

"you'll never know if there is a dead animal somewhere upstream in the water"
What if there is?
By the time you get there, any hazards in the dead animal will have been washed away.

Now, HUMAN faeces - that is another matter! That is the usual source for Giardia and gastro infections in my experience.

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Re: Why do land managers say to treat water?

Postby slparker » Thu 21 Feb, 2019 2:24 pm

I am not sure how certain you can be that any source of drinking water is free from pathogenic (disease causing) bacteria and parasites - unless it is out of a domestic water supply.

Cryptosporidium is found in native wildlife and it is not unfeasible for it to be found downstream of a dead native animal.

Giardia is colourless and odourless and even if there is no evidence of human waste upstream there it can be still be found in water for 3 months after the faeces has degraded.

the risk is low for both of these diseases but it is non-zero. Obviously heavily trafficked wilderness areas with evidence of heavy faecal contamination will raise the risk.

If you drink from a water tank at home, drink from a a dam at home it will not reduce the risk of becoming infected by a pathogen that is novel to you. Only previous exposure to a pathogen of that same genetic type or vaccination protects against disease. it is also not uncommon for people to have re-infections of giardia, for example, on repeated occasions after repeated exposures because host immunity is not total.


Drinking upstream of a dead native animal is better than drinking downstream from a dead native animal if you want to reduce the risk of an infection. I agree the risk is low either way unless you are considering drinking downstream from a slaughterhouse.
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Re: Why do land managers say to treat water?

Postby Lyrebird » Fri 22 Feb, 2019 8:28 pm

Now, HUMAN faeces - that is another matter! That is the usual source for Giardia and gastro infections in my experience.

Sure, and there can also be plenty of that upstream. I have recently returned to walking after a 15 year hiatus and I'm horrified by the increase in toilet paper, used wet wipes and similar in areas that had no evidence of human waste up until the 2000s. Some of these are Instagrammy spots that attract a lot of tourons, but other places are so called remote areas where people should know better. Presumably the sort of people who don't know better than to leave a paper trail also don't know better about not crapping in creeks. :(

I do still drink selected untreated creek water but I accept the risk, and I'm getting pickier by the day about where I source it. I have also previously had giardia (not contracted in Australia) and I can assure anyone reading that it's not something you want in your life.
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Re: Why do land managers say to treat water?

Postby crollsurf » Fri 22 Feb, 2019 9:07 pm

The reason for most of these warnings are from legal advice or due to insurance policy requirements.

Regardless of the warnings, just use common sense. I personally almost always filter my water and avoid creeks with names like Iron Mine Creek.

There is always a risk that something died upstream or whatever and someone with a weak immune system, should take that into account.

But for most of us, the take-away on the way to the trail head is a way bigger risk.

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Re: Why do land managers say to treat water?

Postby Al M » Sat 09 Mar, 2019 7:38 pm

Immunity is not what people think and can generally only be built up for tolerating larger numbers of bacteria per given swallow of food or water, specific things like Hep A virus, but certainly not for fancier parasites like giardia and cryptosporidium bugs that have a resistant shell surviving for longer periods in water and out of it, see here the differences https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclop ... tID=P02019

Such parasites have evolved with humans and animals to outsmart their hosts. Bacteria are generally simpler bugs but some like Salmonella can still pack a punch and lay you out.

Up to 30% people who get giardia are infected but don’t show symptoms like diarrhoea.

I have been travelling and backpacking on and off between jobs and in my youth from university for about the last 30 years, 5 years total of which going overland from Bali, South Asia, India, Nepal trekking for total of 8 months on and off on 7 longs treks etc, bush hikes in Oz, Africa, NZ and South Americas. I’ve been plenty sick despite treating water perhaps giardia 8 times, several salmonella infections, often regular travelers diarrhoea just comes with the territory, one gets sick you wait it out, take medication, recover and keep going most times.

In my first youth trip overland from Bali to Thailand after 3 moths my immunity probably got better but in India and Nepal more serious parasites and salmonella started hitting me more often due to the really bad conditions there.

In Aust hiking one good thing is that the rain water tanks and streams while still potentially contaminated there is less of the bugs that came from humans so the chances of disease are generally less compared to other parts of the world where toilets have bad treatment systems or none at all. The most likely thing you will get from a rainwater tank is higher than tap water amounts of normal leaf decaying bacteria but it you come across a tank that has not been cleaned and there is a thick layer in the bottom of decaying leaf sludge and slime of millions of bacteria that can give people who are less immune a short bout of diarrhoea that will go away after vomit and several bowel movements. It won’t be like giardia where it will last for several weeks of serious diarrhoea, cramps and severe eggy burps and swollen stomach. Giardia medicine will cure you overnight so can easily be treated if you are carrying medicine on a hike.

Having said other parts of the world are dodgy you gotta be aware of this one in Aust especially in warmer tropics http://conditions.health.qld.gov.au/Hea ... id-disease
It’s not a bacteria or giardia, something bigger and worse tapeworm parasite, can lodge in parts of your body and associated with livestock and wildlife poo in drinking water living in soils where water passes through and straight into your mouth where untreated.
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