A good outcome for Brou Lake
The presentation by the EPA on Wednesday of their Whittaker Creek (Brou Lake) test results raised more questions than answers. The meeting was very well attended by the Mayor, Councillors, representatives of the EPA, Fisheries, Department of Primary Industries, Batemans Marine Park, National Parks, Recreational Fishing bodies, affected neighbours, the media and most importantly representatives of the Walbunja, the traditional owners of Brou Lake. The Mayor Liz Innes opened the meeting saying “We’re all here to get the same results and if you don’t get the answers you want today we will endeavor to do what we can to find answers” The EPA Acting Regional Director for South and West Nigel Sargent reiterated the media release that: “The EPA’s water samples collected in Whittakers Creek in December were analysed at the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) laboratories for heavy metals, nutrients, petroleum hydrocarbons, pesticides and toxicity. “The results found the water samples were non-toxic to the local environment.” The science of the EPA testing was presented by EPA South East region’s Matt Rizzuto, reinforcing that there was nothing toxic in the water sample tested from the creek below Council’s Brou Tip thus vindicating Council’s adamancy that the Brou Tip was not polluting Brou Lake and Whittakers Creek. However, as the two hour meeting unfolded it became apparent that the extent of testing that had been carried out to date by Council, under the licence, on neighbouring land, was non-existant. It was agreed by the EPA that future tests would be routinely added to test sites outside the boundaries of the tip area of sediments and ground water from alternate test bores. Such tests would then assist in allaying any community concerns of leachate contamination in both the soil of the adjoining property or in the groundwater. The EPA’s Nigel Watson advised that the EPA was an independent body that was based on evidence and fact and serve as a “protector of the environment” issuing licences for activities such as tips and ensure licenses meet conditions set; and the decisions they make are accountable and can be tested. The EPA had received advice from the landowner after the leachate ponds from Brou Tip overflowed in June 2016. The adjacent landowner took two samples. One of the water and one of a black sludge material. The EPA report today was all about that water sample and the resultant tests that were carried out which showed that the EPA test sample and the adjacent owners samples both indicated that there was no toxicity to be found. An elephant in the room remained though. The black sludge that was also discovered downstream from the leachate ponds revealed hydro carbons at high levels (petrol). The samples also showed high levels of other contaminants. The material had a tacky viscosity and, as such, would not have been able to flow over land via normal leachate overdam escape. The question was raised as to whether it may have oozed up from an untested aquifer as the material was found several hundred metres from the leachate dam. The room was advised that a testing bore is located on the tip site and that it was specifically selected by a hydrographer for testing of groundwater. This declaration was countered from the floor with the observation that the country is granite country and as such can accommodate many aquifers and that the R.L of the found sludge is well below the level of the test bore. The neighbor, having advised the EPA of the leachate overflow, undertook his own sampling as he was worried that no-one would respond to what he had found. The EPA did attend the site some twenty five days after being contacted to conduct their own tests however 40mm of rain had washed the sludge into the creek. Though the EPA did take a sample they were advised that it would “not be the same” and they were provided with a sample taken by the farmer. There were high readings of metals in the sediments provided in the second sample given the EPA by the landowner however these were dismissed when questions were raised with the response that those metals with suggestions that those readings might be independent of any pollutant from the tip. Ron Snape, community member, then asked if there had been any background benchmarks established to determine if the contaminants were elevated in that catchment. He was advised that no background bench marking had been done. The room was advised that the Office of Environment and Heritage conduct continued testing of Brou Lake waters and have found nothing amiss over several years. When asked about the fish kills over summer and the death of stingrays, bream, hundreds of baby mud crabs, seagulls and fledgling little terns Jillian Reynolds of DPI suggested that water may have well been de-oxygenated leading to the fish kill and that the creek was low at the time. With over a fifty years of local fishing knowledge and an absolute understanding of south coast lakes John Brierley, Walbunja cultural fisherman, raised a few informed questions from the floor that saw the DPI and EPA agree that systematic sediment testing of the lake was also warranted. It was made very clear by John that the prawns in Brou Lake had a "stunted growth" in comparison to the prawns from adjacent ICOLLS such as Coila which was opened to the sea at the same time and, though under the same climate conditions, the prawns in Brou Lake were only half the size. "Is that because of heavy metals from the tip?" The EPA responded by saying that that was an assumption and it was wrong to assume that there was a "toxic" lake sitting at the top of the Brou Lake catchment that had contributed heavy metals to the system. One of the concerns raised was how many times the leachate pond had actually overflowed in the recent past. The number given of three in the last eighteen months was surprising to those in the room who were not aware that the pond only has a small capacity capable of dealing with a 1 in 25 year rain event. When asked if the volume of runoff is measure it was confirmed that Council do not measure the volume of the overflow and it was also confirmed that adjacent neighbours had not been contacted, as per protocols, when the leachate ponds have breached the dam walls. It was stated that June 2016 was a high rain event and that the design of the pond is only for a 1 in 25 year event. The major breach of the dam wall in 2012 was also attributable to unusually heavy rainfall. The neighbor advised the meeting that the leachate continued to overflow for three weeks after the last major event and that, “as of today”, he and his neighbours had still not been formally notified by Council of the overflow. Peter Barnard of Dalmeny asked “Is this site suitable to hold such material adjacent to a river and a lake?” further adding to the question by pointing out the proximity of the tip to other creeks and lakes. “It is a historic tip site with landfill in the old section. If it isn’t a problem today it will be a problem tomorrow.” Councillor Maureen Nathan spoke: "Water is a transmitter of molecules. Which instrumentatlity is responsible to carry out tests of sediments etc along the pathway of the waterflow. With these tests we should be able to learn a lot more of what exactly is happening in the lake, the creek and the groundwater." The EPA advised that they will endeavour to do more testing. Damien Rogers representing EuroLeaks raised the history of the Moruya Tip where leachate escape had become a major problem. He advised the meeting that this leachate had been relocated to an old nightcart waste near Broulee. Though he was talked down as being out of order Damien was trying to make the point that it took Council twenty years to finally, and reluctantly, admit that it had transported leachate from Moruya Tip to Broulee and that there had been a historical culture of secrecy in regards to tip matters. The next to speak was Max Castle of Tuross Head, representing Recreational Fishing. Max acknowledged that there was a mixture of knowledge assembled in the room and handed out a sheet of photos around the room, much to the consternation of a Council representative, showing in detail, the leachate wall and a 12” pipe that was draining the leachate pond onto the adjacent landowners property.
Above: some of the photos on the hand out given by Max to the room. These handout had the following comments to the photos shown above: 1) Leachte pond to the left of top photo overflowing into the settlement pond. This photo was taken after 19 days of rain and is still full. Overflow is still being deposited into the settlement dam below. 2. "The lower settlement dam is still receiving an over flow weeks after the rain event . To prevent this dam from overflowing, a 12 inch diameter overflow pipe is provided. Contaminated waste from this pipe flows onto the adjacent private property into Whittaker Creek sanctuary zone of BBMP, then into Brou Lake without any other treatment." 3. "Private property owner Mr Warren Buchan collecting samples on his property close to Whittaker Creek. Samples were taken because of the significant smell and provided to Council staff, but rejected for testing. 4. "Dam overflow travelling through Mr Buchan’s property to Whittaker Creek and Brou Lake (which is closed off to the ocean) four days after rain. Prior to that the height was 3 feet high"
Max observed that there were lots of agencies involved in the lines of communication required when there was a leachate overflow and it just wasn’t working well enough. He suggested that the issue of Brou Lake needs to be bought up in the TARA discussions for the area. Deb Lenson, Council, spoke next and made it clear that she was offended to hear that Council “was doing things against the environment”. She admitted that Council’s response had been “ad-hoc” because the Government had set up multiple agencies. Ms Lenson was reminded by Lei Parker of The Beagle that the only reason the meeting was being held and that all the authorities were there was because a neighbor had taken it upon himself to contact the EPA and to also do his own tests following an event that Council had still not advised him of and that the story had arrived in the media and public domain. The Mayor had left the meeting by this stage. Full credit should go to the Mayor for having proactively instigated the meeting to openly discuss and resolve an issues that might reveal themselves in the process. No doubt it was an informative eye opener for the councillors who attended. The meeting continued listening to specific concerns raised by representatives of the Walbunja and by adjacent neighbours until Lindsay Usher of Council bought it to a close with the summary that the EPA results indicated there was no toxicity found in the water and that any future “alarmist” terms such as “toxic” should be guarded against as the results clearly show no toxicity. Just on closing Warren Buchan rose and informed the meeting that he would now be seeking a formal letter from Council that clearly states that there are no contaminants coming from the leachate ponds on to his property so that he can farm the 20 acres he presently has self- quarantined until he is satisfied that his paddock is safe to graze. Warren handed The Beagle editor a copy of his hand written letter outlining his concerns that he intends to present at a Council Public Forum. The EPA will now be carrying out additional tests that hopefully will also be released to the public. In the general discussions after the meeting around various huddles it was made clear that the meeting of all agencies, the traditional owners, neighbours, recreational fishers and community was a very positive step forward to see a more focused eye kept on this body of water and it presented a good opportunity for Council to revisit its procedures and to improve its communication.