The Bega Valley Shire Council has been fined $15,000 after stormwater runoff from its Central Waste Facility reached Wolumla Creek.
The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) announced the penalty on Tuesday, saying the council had failed to properly comply with a condition of its operating licence for the CWF at Wolumla in November 2016.
EPA South East region manager Nigel Sargent said the EPA responded to an Environment Line report on November 9, and found the council had not properly followed its own procedures in its Stormwater Dam Management Plan, which resulted in sediment laden stormwater discharge reaching Wolumla Creek.
Mr Sargent said although BVSC had developed operational procedures designed to ensure the environment was properly protected, stormwater runoff from paddocks surrounding the landfill area had been pumped out of a stormwater dam without full treatment.
“Testing carried out by the EPA showed that the sediment levels in the water dropped quickly after the discharge reached Wolumla Creek so we are lucky in this instance that the impacts on the creek were quite small,” Mr Sargent said.
“We are always concerned when excess sediment makes it way to freshwater water rivers and streams because it can alter oxygen levels in the water smothering aquatic organisms and their habitat.
“The EPA and the local community expect Bega Valley Shire Council to have good environmental practices at all of their facilities and this incident could have been avoided if the council’s own procedures had been followed.”
Wolumla resident and member of the CWF community consultative committee Jeff Smith said it was a relief the runoff was from a stormwater dam rather than a waste leachate dam.
“It has been our concern for years that because of the location there was potential for runoff to follow through to the Bega Valley drinking water supply,” Mr Smith said.
“When there’s a minor spill there’s potential for a major one.
“You can put the best design in place, but there will always be the human element.
“What’s disappointing is that the people who make the mistakes don’t pay – the ratepayers will,” he said.
The EPA said it was encouraged to note that since the incident, BVSC had updated its operational procedures to improve compliance with environmental standards and expectations at the CWF.
Penalty notices, official cautions and prevention notices are a number of tools the EPA can use to protect the environment and achieve environmental compliance. The EPA takes in a range of factors into account to determine its regulatory response, including the degree of environmental harm, potential health impacts, compliance history, public interest and best environmental outcomes.
For more information about the EPA’s regulatory tools, see the EPA Compliance Policy at www.epa.nsw.gov.au/legislation/130251epacompl.htm.
The EPA encourages members of the community with knowledge of a pollution incident to contact the EPA’s 24 hour Environment Line on 131 555 and report the matter.