Coliban Water must guarantee that the Campaspe River will never again be contaminated by non-EPA compliant releases of wastewater from the Kyneton Water Reclamation Plant, river landowners say.
The landowners have accused Coliban Water and the state government of using the most recent announcement of upgrades to the plant to deflect attention away from charges laid against the water authority.
Last month the Environment Protection Authority laid 11 charges against Coliban Water following a comprehensive investigation into the release of treated effluent to the Campaspe River.
The charges relate to discharges that occurred from May to August this year, which the prosecution will allege caused an environmental hazard, polluted waters, and resulted in non-compliance with licence conditions.
“It’s only a few months since they were charged and convicted of similar offences and yet here we are, they’re back in court, and the government and the water minister have not made any of the management or board members accountable,” landowner Kim Strawhorn said.
“If the board were not aware of these practices they are negligent and if they were aware, surely they are liable.
“If (local MP) Mary-Anne Thomas was honestly representing her constituents as she claims then she would be supporting the community’s petition (of over 1400 signatures) so the plant does not produce C Class wastewater and continue to pose a risk to the local waterways.”
Neighbour Huntly Barton said the landowners wanted a “cast iron guarantee” that C Class water would never enter the river again, under any dilution.
“Coliban Water needs to make a commitment to capital works such as storage of human waste so it eliminates it being discharged into C Class ponds,” Mr Barton said.
“If Coliban Water had kept pace with growth in our area over the past 30 to 40 years it would have the infrastructure in place to cope with trade wastewater.
“The simple fact is that they have not and their solution will remain a catch-up program that leaves the river and its ecology threatened.”
Coliban Water’s managing director Damian Wells said that while certain guarantees could not be made because the licence conditions didn’t “line up neatly with the different classes of water”, Coliban Water would not be discharging water “out of our licence requirements”.
“What we can guarantee is that once the (plant upgrade) works are completed our absolute commitment is to operate above compliance,” Mr Wells said.
“We have put forward a very significant capital investment and we’re trebling the lagoon capacity to 600 megalitres to ensure that the conversation is no longer even about compliance.”
What is being planned
Coliban Water is working in partnership with major trade waste producer Hardwicks Meatworks to deliver a total of $17M in upgrade works to the Kyneton Water Reclamation Plant in three phases, aimed at increasing the plant’s capacity to store treated water when there is not demand for irrigation water or when there are not sufficient flows to release treated water to the Campaspe River.
Phase one works are currently underway and scheduled for completion in March 2020. These include a series of improved treatment processes in the lagoons and tanks for storage of Class B water for irrigation at Hardwicks Meatworks.
Phase two will deliver the construction of a Class C to B treatment plant for the trade waste treatment stream, additional storage of approximately 200 megalitres and additional irrigation areas including the transfer pipework and irrigation infrastructure.
Phase two is expected to be complete in December 2020, pending planning and regulatory approvals.
Phase three planning will explore the broader Kyneton region and its needs for the future.
As part of phase three planning, Coliban Water will engage with the local community, landowners and stakeholder groups to involve them in the process relating to longer-term solutions and future investment.
CW is investigating further catchment health and water quality improvement works, in addition to the $2.1M catchment health project along the Campaspe River and Post Office Creek in partnership with the North Central Catchment Management Authority.