Emergency water relief program FAQs


This advice is current as of Thursday 16 January 2020

What should I do to my tank before a bushfire to prevent contamination?

The contamination of water tanks can be avoided by disconnecting your downpipes, if it is safe to do so. Covering the tank and disconnecting the downpipes will help prevent contamination from debris that may fall onto rooftops and into gutters supplying the tank.

Tanks should not be reconnected until the rooftop is clean, the bushfire has passed, and the smoke has subsided.

Who should I contact if my tank water is contaminated?

Residents in bushfire declared areas who rely on tank water as their sole household drinking water supply and who have tank water affected by bushfires should contact the Water Relief Support Service via South East Water on 13 18 51.

South East Water will be the initial contact point for bushfire affected residents in need of emergency relief water, as well as coordinating the delivery of water across affected areas. 

How do I know if I am eligible for emergency relief water assistance?

Residents in bushfire declared communities in the East Gippsland Shire, Wellington Shire, Alpine Shire, Towong Shire, Indigo Shire and Rural City of Wangaratta areas may eligible for emergency water relief assistance.

Other areas may be eligible for assistance once they are officially declared. For more information contact the Water Relief Support Service on 13 18 51.

For more information you can view a relief drinking boundary map (PDF, 1.46MB). The map is current as of Wednesday 15 January 2020.

Who should I contact if my water supply is disrupted?

Residents on reticulated town water who experience water supply disruption should contact their local water corporation for assistance.

Residents who meet eligibility requirements can be provided with emergency drinking water.

What should I do to my tank after a bushfire?

Before you reconnect your downpipes, hose off the roof catchment area, or wait for a good flush of rain to prevent contaminants entering your tank. If you need to clean your roof manually, take care to prevent slips and falls. This can be done by a professional cleaner. You can find out more information through your local council. 

How do I access emergency relief drinking water?

Permanent residents in bushfire declared areas who are without drinking and domestic water supplies due should contact the Water Relief Support Service on 13 18 51.

What are the eligibility requirements for emergency relief drinking water (also known as the tank rinse and refill program?)

If you’re in a bushfire affected area you will qualify to be supplied with emergency relief drinking water. 

Applications for the tank rinse and refill program are assessed against these criteria:

  • the applicant occupies the property as a primary place of residence
  • the applicant is not on reticulated (town) water and relies on tank water for domestic use
  • prior to the emergency, the tank water was used for drinking and other domestic purposes 
  • the tank water’s primary use is not used for agriculture, stock water and watering gardens.
  • If you’re not in a declared bushfire affected area, refer to the Emergency Relief Drinking Water policy or call 131 851 for advice. 

Can costs be claimed for water previously delivered before the program started? I.e.. retrospectively

If the service provided meets the eligibility criteria mentioned above, then these costs can be claimed, provided this was done after the fires started. Documentation will need to be provided to the Water Relief Support Service to confirm costs. 

Do the water carters have to be registered or accredited by someone? 

Yes, water carters must be either registered with or accredited by either the council or the local water corporation.

Advice regarding livestock

How do I know if the water on my farm is safe for livestock to drink?

If you live in a bushfire affected area, water availability may be reduced by fire suppression activities and water quality may be affected by contamination from ash, soil and dead animals.

• Agriculture Victoria has practical information on our website maintaining farm water quality and protecting surface catchment once the fire has passed (http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/emergencies/recovery/farm-and-land-recovery-after-bushfire)

• The use of aerially sprayed red fire retardant near your stock water sources should not be cause for concern, as there are no reports of any significant direct effects of fire retardants on livestock, including poultry and fish. Fire retardants contain ammonia salts that are commonly used in agricultural fertilisers.

• If your stock water looks or smells unusual, you should investigate alternative water sources or agistment.

• If you are concerned about stock water quality you may need to have your water tested and the following link provides several options for this http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/farm-management/soil-and-water/water/farm-water-solutions/how-much-water-does-my-farm-need/water-quality-testing-contacts

• For assistance developing a water budget, please see information in the drought management handbooks on our Livestock after an emergency webpage at: http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/emergencies/recovery/livestock-after-an-emergency

• If you have stock in a containment area in the aftermath of the fire, please see the following important information about water supply http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/farm-management/managing-dams/water-supply-for-stock-containment-areas

Advice to livestock owners regarding stock water:

• Stock may refuse to drink water if it tastes different from their normal supply. It is important to watch your stock carefully to ensure they are drinking adequately.

• Veterinary advice should be sought if stock owners are concerned that their animals are unwell.

• For emergency livestock water, please contact your local council.


How do I access emergency stock water?

To identify potential stock water availability options in your area, it is recommended you contact your Local Shire via their emergency contact details (as per examples below) to seek advice.


1300 555 886
1300 366 244
North East
(02) 6071 5100
(03) 5755 0555
1300 365 003
(03) 5722 0888

Why contact the local council?

Local councils have a list of all emergency water standpipes which are in their region and also information on local water carters.
The councils will also be able keep a log of the number of people needing stock access and raise it through emergency management teams as required.

Is there a list of current Emergency Water supply points for stock and domestic water?

Yes, you can go to the following website.

Who best to talk to about the health of my animals?

If you are unsure about animal health requirements, Agriculture Victoria can also assist. Further information can be obtained at the following:
  • Injured livestock/animal welfare assessments: Call 1800 226 226 then selection option “0” and then “4” to speak to an operator to arrange for animal health staff to visit and assess livestock.
  • For information on bushfire recovery: Call 136 186 or visit the Agriculture Victoria website.
Further information on stock water support is available on Agriculture Victoria website

What happens if I can’t access immediate water for stock?

  • We are aware of the potential for some landholders to not be able to access immediate water for stock. In these cases, a local agriculture extension officer will be assigned to work with the landholder to explore the most appropriate solution
  • In these cases, landholders should contact Agriculture Victoria for support on 136186

What support will the extension officer provide?

Given there is the chance each landowners circumstance may differ given their location, condition of stock etc… the services that can be provided will be explored between the extension officer and landowner to find the most suitable solution.

Additional information about the tank water flush and top-up program for residents in fire affected areas.

What services are being provided under the tank water flush and top-up program?

A tank top-up of 5,000 litres for eligible residents impacted by an emergency. When is the tank water flush and top up program being provided? Residents in bushfire declared areas who require should call Water Relief Support Service on 131 851 to lodge an application.

How do I register?

Call Water Relief Support Service on 13 18 51.

Where can I get this service after the emergency arrangements finish?

You will need to arrange this service yourself.


I still haven’t been able to access my property; it’s unfair that I haven’t had my tank flush and fill.


Once you have access to your property and can determine your needs contact Water Relief Support Service on 13 18 51.


Do I have to empty out my water tank?


The contractor who will visit your home can assist. This will be discussed with you when you contact the Water Relief Support Service.


What else could the contaminated water be used for?


If the tank water is contaminated by ash and soot, it can be carefully released onto domestic gardens or street drainage. If the tank water is contaminated by bushfire fighting retardant (Class A), it can also be released onto domestic gardens or released into street drainage. The EPA can provide advice on the disposal of water from tanks contaminated by unknown or toxic substances.


Will someone test my water to see if it is safe?


No. It is up to property owners to assess what further action is required (if any).


How do I know if my tank water is safe to use?


The safety of your water will depend on the exposure to smoke, ash and other debris and is the property owner’s responsibility to assess.


Advice to the public in bushfire affected areas who rely on rainwater tanks for drinking:


  • A bushfire affected area is where water retardant and water bombing activities have occurred, and ash has fallen directly onto the properties.
  • If you live in a bushfire affected area, your private drinking water could be contaminated from debris, ash, dead animals, aerial fire retardants and water-bombing.
  • If the water tastes, looks or smells unusual, do not drink, use for food preparation or brushing teeth.
  • Boiling water does not remove fire retardants or other chemicals from your water.
  • Fire affected water in your tank can still be used for irrigation, toilet flushing and firefighting purposes.

Advice to the public in non-bushfire affected areas who rely on rainwater tanks for drinking:

If you’re not in the declared bushfire zone you will need to organise and purchase your own water. You can find a local water carter on the yellow pages.

Smoke taint

There have been queries from people living outside bushfire affected areas reporting the drinking water from their rainwater tank tastes of smoke.

  • The smoke taint alone is unlikely to be a health concern. 

  • However, if you are concerned about the taste of your rainwater, use bottled water for drinking, food preparation, brushing teeth and feeding to animals. You can continue to use your rainwater for other uses.

Where can I find more information?


Visit Department of Health and Human Services for more information or contact your local council.​​​