Salt Ash public school will be forced to dip in to its coffers to pay a $6000 water bill incurred as a result of the ongoing PFAS contamination scandal.
The school previously used free water from its bore water connection, however it was forced to connect to town water when the risk of contamination increased.
The Department of Defence agreed in February to cover three years of water bills for all residential users and businesses in the contaminated area.
However, the department is refusing pay for the school’s bill because it is operated by the state government.
School P&C committee member Kylie Keen said the committee was shocked when it learned of the bill.
“We weren’t aware the school had to pay for water until just now,” Ms Keen said.
“The kids are already being impacted at home. The school should be their safe house and now we have to pay for usage of water.”
She said the money to pay for the bill would come from funds that would otherwise be spent on education.
“It’s actually going come out of the money that could be spent on the kids,” Ms Keen said.
The school has since scaled back its water usage resulting in the school playing field turning to dust.
Port Stephens MP Kate Washington, who met with concerned residents on Monday, has written to the Department of Defence urging them to add the school’s water bill to the residential water bills they are already paying.
“We are about to see billion dollar fighter jets arriving at Williamtown, but Defence has refused to pay a school’s water bill - school children have been left to play in the dust,” she said.
“Defence needs to do the right thing and start taking some responsibility for the impact of the contamination on our community.”
A Department of Defence spokeswoman said its primary goal was to ensure all residents within the management area had access to a sustainable source of drinking water.
“As a result, the connection of Salt Ash Primary School to town water was funded by the Federal Government. Ongoing costs related to the town water connection are funded by the NSW State Government,” she said.
“Defence remains in contact with the school and representatives from the Department of Education regarding the outcome of the school’s utility funding.”
Defence is committed to responsible environmental management and will continue to engage with the local community on the investigation and management of PFAS contamination at and around RAAF Base Williamtown.”
Initially, the offer to cover residential water costs applied only to those who had been connected to mains water after the confirmation of PFAS chemicals in 2015 meant they were no longer able to use the water bores they'd relied on to that point.
But after much lobbying from other householders, the department agreed to widen the scheme to all red zone residents, acknowledging that those who were already connected to the town supply were also unable to take advantage of existing water bores.