Landowners along the Campaspe River downstream from the Kyneton Water Reclamation Plant fear they may have been drawing contaminated water from the river for the past decade.
Unusually high stock deaths in recent years and the disappearance of aquatic wildlife have led landowners like Huntly Barton to demand answers from Coliban Water in relation to non-EPA compliant discharges of wastewater from the plant to the river.
Mr Barton discovered 11 such releases had occurred between 2007 and 2018.
A water sample taken from Snipes Creek – which feeds into the Campaspe River and into which several non-compliant releases were made – was tested by ALS Water at its Scoresby laboratory in September last year and was found to be ‘unsuitable for human consumption and domestic use’, ‘generally unsuitable for stock use’, and ‘unsuitable for irrigation’, with high levels of salinity and the presence of Ecoli – indicative of faecal contamination – the most troubling factors.
Mr Barton said Snipes Creek had been used as the discharge point for the release of diluted wastewater from the settling ponds since their inception, but in 2007 the EPA removed Coliban’s licence to use Snipes Creek, because it was so polluted.
“This water is now transferred into the Campaspe via a pipe at Wards Lane approximately two kilometres up river from Windmill Bridge,” Mr Barton said.
“Their licence allows them to release C grade water into the Campaspe at a dilution ratio of 1:5, so they are only allowed to release water when the river is running.
“Yet since 2007, when they have had no licence to use Snipes Creek, they have made six illegal releases of undiluted C grade water and three illegal releases of undiluted water at Wards Lane.”
Mr Barton said he’d had 15 calves either born and dead within a week, or prematurely born.
“We can’t prove it was the water but we’ve been here over 50 years and we’ve never had an incidence like this,” he said.
“We’ve lost three calves this year from premature birth, that just never happens.
“All our water is pumped from the river and is gravity fed to troughs.”
Neighbour Kim Strawhorn said he’d had to install alternative water points in his paddocks containing Snipes Creek as he’d found that his stock wouldn’t drink from the creek.
“Not once have we been notified that these illegal releases were about to be done,” he said.
“We have been left using this water totally unaware.”
David Sheehan, Coliban Water’s executive general manager of water quality, said that at times there had been a need to discharge outside of the licence requirements to protect onsite lagoon infrastructure at the plant from failure when the lagoons had been close to full capacity.
“We have been made aware that there are a number of downstream landholders who are not picked up by our current communication channels, and who are not Coliban Water customers, and we are working to put in place a notification process for these landholders,” he said.
“When non-compliant discharges occur, we undertake additional environmental monitoring along the Campaspe River, and the monitoring results are provided to EPA.
“Our short-term plan is to prevent negative water quality and environmental impacts, while our medium to long-term plans would enable the plant to appropriately manage and reuse lagoon-treated wastewater.”
Mr Sheehan said works at the plant had been budgeted for in their Pricing Submission 2018.
“By 2021-22, we will deliver the Kyneton Water Reclamation Plant Lagoon Compliance Works for $6.8 million to ensure 100 per cent compliance with our EPA licence conditions.”