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Merimbula’s ocean outfall seen as best option for this time

Ian Campbell 31 October 2019
Lindon Thompson, Peter Haar, and Chris Young from Merimbula Big Game and Lakes Angling Club at this weeks meeting of Bega Valley Shire Council. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Lindon Thompson, Peter Haar, and Chris Young from Merimbula Big Game and Lakes Angling Club at this weeks meeting of Bega Valley Shire Council. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Bega Valley Shire Councillors have approved the location of Merimbula’s new ocean outfall with a real sense of not really having too much choice.

All spoke of their desire to see more of the treated effluent reused in the environment and community rather than dumped at sea but also of being directed by the NSW Government to build an ocean outfall.

Over almost a decade a range of disposal and reuse options have been considered and discounted with  the NSW EPA amending Council’s operating licence to include a requirement to construct an ocean outfall and upgrade the Merimbula treatment plant.

The outfall location adopted by Council is known as the “north short” diffuser location which is about 2600 metres from the shoreline in a water depth of approximately 30 metres in Merimbula Bay.

The Community Working Group (CWG) Council commissioned to advise the process had preferred the “north long” option which is located 4300 metres offshore in a depth of approximately 40 metres.

“The CWG has indicated a general awareness of the cost implications of a longer outfall and was generally supportive of measures to reduce the length of the pipeline provided the environment is not compromised in the process,” according to the staff report to councillors.

“Whilst detailed modelling and costing of all options was not available to the CWG, it is clear from subsequent modelling undertaken by AECOM (Council’s expert consultant) that the north short option can achieve the project’s water quality objectives without compromising the environment.

“The project team consider a shorter option to be preferable as the dispersion modelling indicates that adequate mixing would occur, and the significant additional expenditure for a longer pipe is unwarranted on technical grounds.”

The poo pipe that once did extend into the sea was destroyed in the 1970's, ever since the remains of the pipeline have dumped excess treated effluent on to Pambula - Merimbula beach. Photo: Brent Occleshaw for BVSC.

The poo pipe that once did extend into the sea was destroyed in the 1970’s, ever since the remains of the pipeline have dumped excess treated effluent on to Pambula – Merimbula beach. Photo: Brent Occleshaw for BVSC.

The locations considered all put an end to the beach face outfall that has discharged treated effluent on to the sand between Pambula and Merimbula since the 1970s and the dunal exfiltration ponds that sit behind it. Both impact on groundwater, oyster production in Lake Merimbula and Aboriginal heritage.

However, the CWG is frustrated other disposal options they presented weren’t considered.

Speaking at this week’s council meeting, CWG member and former councillor Fraser Buchanan spoke of feeling as though the group had been “used as a PR exercise.”

Mr Buchanan and others who addressed council on the issue argued that the $32 million budget should be redirected towards treating the effluent to the highest standard so that more reuse options could be considered – including using the end product as drinking water.

“Send it to me, I’ll drink it,” Pambula’s Russell Jennings told councillors.

The Merimbula Big Game and Lakes Angling Club also raised concerns about the impacts on the new artificial reef in Merimbula Bay.

New club president Peter Haar spoke with the support of his 230 members, “nowhere do I see any documentation about the impact on the artificial reef.”

“How can you make this decision without that information.

“We’ll be fishing over the diffuser within minutes [of leaving the boat ramp] and that bothers me.”

In the discussion among councillors that followed, the chamber was reassured that the detailed Environmental Impact Statement that will now follow will investigate any impacts on fishing and the marine environment.

“But given the work done to date the likelihood of that [environmental impacts] is low,” Anthony McMahon, Council’s Director of Assets and Operations said.

“This will certainly be an improvement on what is currently the case.”

Recognising the potential of reusing as much of the treated effluent as possible councillors also approved the investigation of expanding the current reuse program with the Pambula Merimbula Golf Club and asked staff to prepare a detailed report on other reuse options across the shires 10 existing ocean/river/beach face outfalls.

“We’ve never had a full report and we’ve been asking for a full report and costings for a couple of years,” Cr Robyn Bain said.

“We are all committed to reuse,” Cr Cathy Griff said.

Cr Russell Fitzpatrick acknowledged that the decision to move forward on the ocean outfall was about balancing the cost and better environmental outcomes.

“It comes down to what people are willing to pay in sewer rates and we are told now they are too high,” he said.

A point echoed by Cr Jo Dodds, “We’d all rather that this water be made potable and returned to the land, but that’s just not possible in this budgetary position.”

Cr Tony Allen pointed to the eight years of discussion leading up to yesterday’s decision, “This outcome has been a long time coming and is a step forward.”

In summing up the mood of her colleagues prior to the unanimous vote, Mayor Kristy McBain said, “Anything will be an improvement on what we currently have.”

The EIS is due in May next year prior to formal approval of the overall project.

Those who spoke against the project at Council and the Merimbula/Pambula Wastewater Alternatives group have all vowed to keep fighting the idea.

What's Your Opinion?

5 Responses to Merimbula’s ocean outfall seen as best option for this time

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Marianne Kambouridis 10:58 am 02 Nov 19

Tony Allen states the 8 years of discussion leading up to this decision is a step forward! Forward in who’s terms? In terms of our environment? In terms of water scarcity? Or in terms of certain vested interests??? To make such a bold statement as ‘ A STEP FORWARD ‘ one would think that the ‘step’ would embrace current filtering technologies, high treatment, priority to reuse 90-100% of wastewater, contingency management in the form of extra storage and irrigation. But NO, Cr Allen feels the $30+ million to move the problem from the shoreline to the bay is the forward step?? Cr. Griff has done well to push for a reuse policy and reuse targets but alas, she too has been given the short shrift in her role as Greens councillor. But then, of course, all greens are vegans hey? What would we know about caring for the environment, living within our means, our connection with nature etc etc.

John Richardson 7:35 pm 31 Oct 19

More fake news eh Ian?
The suggestion that council hs been “directed” by the NSW Government of the EPA to pursue an Ocean Outfall Pipeline is a bald-faced lie that council keeps repeating in the desperate hope that the community will come to believe it.
The facts are that council adopted the Ocean Outfall Pipeline as its preferred option in 2013, based on a recommendation made by the then Community Working Group (http://www.begavalleyshireratepayers.asn.au/files/BVSC-Ordinary-Meeting—Item-11.2—03.07.2013.pdf)& it was only after that decision that the EPA included that as a requirement of council’s licence: even then making it clear that the mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) still to be completed must not only address council’s current strategy, but all alternate strategies, including those not previously considered, as part of the process.
The preferred strategy of the more recent Community Working Group that council pursue tertiary treatment of sewage effluent, thereby turning it into a potentially valuable resource, rather then treating it as a waste problem to be disposed of out of sight & out of mind into our pristine coastal waters, has been deliberately ignored by council without so much as a cursory examination.
Needless to say, I believe that public opinion will turn on this issue & that it is highly likely that council will eventually be required to walk-back from its chosen path.
The most disgusting aspect of this week’s decision was that it was supported by the same councillors who supported the adoption of the so-called “climate emergency” slogan. So much for protecting our environment …

    Marianne Kambouridis 11:02 am 02 Nov 19

    Well said John.
    The EPA has at no point actually directed BVSC to construct an outfall. The EPA ombudsman is now going to be contacted regarding this issue. Our councillors who voted for the climate emergency had a chance the put this vote into action on 31-10-19 but chose not to. How can we now take these councillors seriously??

Fraser Buchanan 5:24 pm 31 Oct 19

The North short outfall option was not supported by the Community working Group and there was no discussions about costs or trying reduce costs, we purely wanted the best environmental outcome….which we believe involves treating the effluent to the very highest standard being high tertiary A+ almost direct potable, this way we would be being genuinely responsible for our waste not just treating it to a high secondary and then releasing it into the bay still including micro plastic, endocrine disrupters, pharmaceuticals, chemicals & nutrient loads.

We believed expending $30-$50 million on an outfall pipe is a retrograde step and will inhibit reuse opportunities into the future, we think the money would be way better spent on the high grade treatment of the effluent and significantly expanding holding capacity & reuse on the golf course and out to farmers in Locheil who are desperate for water security plus either installing a dunal exfiltration trench system into the sand dunes opposite the airport for any excess or just a minor modification to the existing beach outfall to enter the water directly or even just running it down the beach during wet times if the holding capacity is full, remember we are talking about near drinkable water…the dunal exfiltration system was costed at $3.75 million back in 2013 which was and is so much cheaper than the mega outfall allowing much more money to be spent on treatment to produce a product that has minimal if any environmental concerns….such a better way to go , but the councillors don’t really listen or show a willingness to properly engage with their constituents on the matter, they just seem just follow the gospel words of their senior management…by the way the EPA did change their licence requirements only because council resolved to go that way. But EPA made it clear to our working group they were not concerned about the method of disposal, outfall, exfiltration or reuse as long as it satisfied their guidelines for environmental protection then that was it. So council can’t pass the buck to them..it has always been the councils decision..

    Elaine Cozens 8:26 am 15 Nov 19

    Thank you for the clear analysis of the situation.

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