Has your rainwater tank been getting enough attention?

SUMMER on the Sunshine Coast means sun, sand, surf… and storms and bushfires. Is your rainwater tank summer-ready and safely maintained?

Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service manager environmental health Greg Bennett says using rainwater tanks involves low maintenance, not no maintenance.

“Like all drinking water supplies, rainwater systems need to be monitored. The associated maintenance is not too onerous but it is necessary,” Mr Bennett said.

“Monitoring your rainwater tank is an important responsibility, consisting of a range of visual inspections rather than laboratory testing of rainwater quality. Maintenance is needed to maintain good water quality and prevent mosquitoes breeding.”

The top monitoring and maintenance activities that will help you keep your rainwater tank system safe include:

• Clean gutters (six-monthly and after storms)

• Clear the first-flush device of debris (monthly and after storms)

• Check for evidence of animal, bird or insect access (six monthly)

• Check roof and gutters for accumulated debris including leaf and other plant material (six monthly)

• Check and trim overhanging branches (six monthly)

• Inspect and repair downpipes, check condition of the roof (six monthly)

• Check tanks for sludge accumulation (at least every 2-3 years). If sludge is covering the bottom of the tank, siphon it out or completely empty the tank. Professional tank cleaners operate in many areas

• Prevent tanks and gutters from becoming breeding sites for mosquitoes by insect screening

“Rainwater is generally safe to drink providing it is clear, has little taste or smell, and is from a well-maintained system,” Mr Bennett said.

“However, reticulated or town water provides the safest and most reliable source of drinking water.

“Queensland Health recommends that residents should use town water supplies for drinking, personal hygiene and food preparation if they live in areas that have access to these supplies.”

Mr Bennett said that for most people, especially those who had been drinking rainwater for most of their lives, there would be very little health risk in drinking rainwater, provided the rainwater collection and storage system was well maintained.

“However, there are some members of the community for whom microorganisms (such as bacteria) when present in rainwater could pose health risks, including infants, the elderly and immune-compromised people such as transplant, dialysis, HIV or cancer patients with severely weakened immune systems,” Mr Bennett said.

“These people should consider disinfecting the water before drinking or cooking with it. You can do this by boiling the water.”

Rainwater may be used without further treatment for flushing toilets, the cold-water laundry tap and for watering gardens and lawns as these uses generally present a low risk of disease.