By Jeremy Sollars
The Southern Downs Regional Council has been forced to clean up two major raw sewage overflows in as many weeks due to pump station ‘failures’, blaming the problem on a lack of maintenance and upgrading by previous administrations.
On Thursday 18 February the pumping station on McEvoy Street in Warwick failed, accidentally discharging raw effluent into nearby Bracker Creek, although a statement released by the council did not state the volume of the discharge.
That spill happened less than a week after the pumping station at Killarney likewise failed, resulting in an ‘overland’ spill of 26,000 litres of raw effluent on Saturday 13 February.
The spills follow the budgeting by the council of $105,000 late last year to repair major erosion on the bank of the Condamine River in Warwick just below the Victoria Street sewage treatment plant, which accidentally discharged effluent into the river on 3 June 2020.
Sewage overflows have been a major headache for the council in recent years, having so far escaped major State Government fines under environmental laws, with overflows to waterways potentially attracting six-figure financial penalties for councils, water agencies and private companies.
A series of overflows into Stanthorpe’s Quart Pot Creek in 2016 and 2017 became the subject of a Right To Information (RTI) investigation by the Free Times which revealed at least 106 megalitres of sewage flowed into the creek between July 2016 and April 2017, with other amounts released during other “overflow events” listed by the council as being of “unknown” origin.
The RTI documents obtained by the Free Times also showed the effluent overflows were caused by equipment failures at the Stanthorpe sewage treatment plant which were brought to the attention of senior council officers but were not promptly rectified.
Instead council management blamed communication errors by staff on the ground for at least some of the discharges.
In January 2017 the council was fined $12,190 for effluent releases between 15 and 18 July 2016.
Another pump station malfunction – this time in Warwick – just before Christmas 2018 – released significant amounts of effluent into the Condamine River at Federation Park, with the pump station located nearby outside the new Bunnings at the corner of Condamine and Canning Street. That failure was blamed by the council on heavy rainfall, despite the sewage and stormwater networks being separate.
McEvoy Street “event”
A council spokeswoman said the McEvoy Street pump station incident – or “event” on Thursday 18 February “occurred yesterday within the gravity sewer catchment of the McEvoy Street pump station”.
“The incident occurred due to a blockage between the receiving manhole and the pump station,” the spokeswoman said.
“The pump station has been functioning as intended and there were no issues with the station except no inflow.
“While the incident was regrettable in nature, officers responded promptly and proactively to resolve the issue.
“Council staff immediately undertook remediation actions once the overflow was discovered and worked quickly to minimise the impact of the overflow.
“The overflow from the station spilled into Bracker Creek which fortunately is not flowing at present.
“Water pooled in three ponds within the creek bed which were cleaned by the vacuum truck straightaway.
“We are now conducting a thorough investigation into the incident and will implement remedial measures where necessary to avoid similar situations in future.
“The unfortunate reality is that that we have aging infrastructure across the region that has been ignored for too long and this Council is planning and budgeting to address the issue.”
“Council thanks the community for their understanding and cooperation.”
The council has budgeted just over $151,000 for a switchboard upgrade at the McEvoy Street pump station in the current financial year.
The council spokeswoman said the Killarney “overflow event” late on the night of Saturday 13 February was caused by a “switchboard failure”.
“Council has been advised that this failure caused the overflow of approximately 200 KL from a sewer pump on site but that the overflow was contained on the ground and that there was no inflow to waterways,” the spokeswoman said.
“Approximately 26,000 litres of overflow was captured in the emergency storage tanks.
“Site cleaning has taken place with vacuum truck and the overflow site was disinfected this morning.
“A switchboard failure potentially caused by the storm (earlier on the Saturday night) wasn’t discovered until Sunday morning. At this time, the Killarney pump stations are not yet integrated into our control system therefore no remote alarms were generated over the weekend.”
Mayor Vic Pennisi said the “integration of both sewer pump stations in Killarney with SDRC’s control system is high on Council’s agenda and is being addressed together with the overall strategy to replace and improve our aging infrastructure”.
“I want to thank our very capable Infrastructure Services team for responding with exceptional speed and efficiency as soon as they were made aware of the situation,” Cr Pennisi said.
“Council apologises for any inconvenience caused and thanks the community for their understanding.”