By Jess Baker
Warwick residents were left scratching their heads, and holding their noses, last week as sewage once again made its way into Bracker Creek.
Southern Downs Regional Council (SDRC) told the community of the event on Friday 23 April, blaming a leak in a sewer rising main for the mishap.
A SDRC spokesperson said officers responded quickly to the event and are now investigating whether Rosenthal Creek was also impacted.
“Following an enquiry from a local resident on Canning Street, Council staff immediately investigated the site and undertook remediation actions once the overflow was discovered to quickly minimise the impact of the overflow,” said the spokesperson.
“The unfortunate reality is that we have ageing infrastructure across the region that has been ignored for too long and this Council is planning and budgeting to address the issue.”
A similar statement was released by SDRC two months ago, on 19 February 2021, after another “regrettable” incident saw sewage overflow from the McEvoy Street pump station spill into Bracker Creek.
The February event was said to have occurred due to a blockage between the receiving manhole and the pump station.
“The pump station has been functioning as intended and there were no issues with the station except no inflow,” read a media release at the time.
Following the February incident, the McEvoy Street pump station was reportedly upgraded and the replacement of the rising main identified as a priority for SDRC.
Last week, on the evening of Tuesday 20 April, a Warwick resident passing by the pump station reported an overwhelming stench and an unusual sight to Warwick and Stanthorpe Today.
The resident claimed to have seen a truck pumping effluent directly into Rosenthal Creek.
Warwick and Stanthorpe Today asked SDRC if it was aware of and investigating this allegation on Wednesday 21 April and received a response the same afternoon.
“Council contracted Pipe Management Australia to clean and review the gravity sewer main between the Warwick Saleyards and the McEvoy Street pump station,” said a SDRC spokesperson.
“They were engaged to collect the sewage and wash water on McEvoy Street with a vacuum truck. The contractor has been carting the waste from the manhole at the McEvoy Street pump station to the Warwick (Sewage Treatment Plant) site for discharge.
“Work was completed on Tuesday 20 April.
“Council can confirm that nothing has been discharged in the Rosenthal Creek by the contractor. Council is not aware of any other truck being present at the pump station site.”
On Friday 23 April, SDRC said water samples from both Bracker and Rosenthal Creeks were sent to an accredited laboratory for testing and the Queensland Department of Environment and Science (DES) was notified of the spill.
Last week’s sewage event was the 56th incident reported by SDRC to DES since 2015 – the fourth since February 2021.
Evidently, some drastic changes need to be made by SDRC and they need to be made quickly. Just last month, Southern Downs councillors were told they would have to find an additional $30 million over the next five years to repair failing sewerage systems.
SDRC Manager of Water Lalji Rathod told councillors SDRC will also have to replace the Stanthorpe Sewage Treatment Plant and increase spending in the medium term to break the “boom bust cycle” and mitigate risk.
The advice to councillors followed a meeting between DES and SDRC officers, and three sewage overflow events in as many weeks.
The first SDRC sewerage system failure of 2021 occurred at the Killarney pump station on 13 February due to a “switchboard failure”.
Council advised residents of Killarney that approximately 200 kilolitres of sewage spilled from the sewer pump on site, with 26,000 litres of overflow captured in emergency storage tanks and the rest “contained on the ground”.
At the time, Southern Downs Mayor Vic Pennisi said in a media release that 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 ageing infrastructure”.
Just five days after the Killarney sewage event, on 18 February, another sewage overflow occurred. This time, within the gravity sewer catchment of the McEvoy Street pump station.
SDRC said overflow spilled into Bracker Creek but was 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,” a SDRC spokesperson said at the time.
Less than two weeks later, a third overflow occurred at the Warwick Sewage Treatment Plant.
SDRC had not yet ascertained whether contaminants reached the Condamine River, but Water Manager Mr Rathod confirmed in a March Information Session that DES issued an Environmental Protection Order to SDRC to undertake specific biosolid management duties shortly after the spill.
Following the third overflow event, the Southern Downs and Granite Belt experienced several days of heavy rainfall. Given the fragility and age of SDRC’s sewerage systems, it was expected the rain would impact sewer pumping stations or cause sewage overflows.
But a SDRC spokesperson said the rain had little impact on Council’s systems.
“Although there was infiltration of stormwater in the sewer causing some sewer overflow, the system has returned back to normal operation,” said the spokesperson.
SDRC said it is currently focused on gathering facts on the water quality at the McEvoy Street pump station and investigating ways to transfer polluted water to the Warwick Sewage Treatment Plant for further treatment.
For this reason, swimming and fishing in the Bracker Creek waterway – and watering gardens with the creek water – is prohibited until further notice.
SDRC encourages anyone with concerns about sewage overflows to contact its Customer Service Centre on 1300 697 372.