In the article of April 2nd “Something stinks and it isn't dead fish” local Surfside resident Viv Sethi outlined his concerns that the dead fish in the creek were due to a possible sewer spill. Mr Sethi was concerned for the many locals who recreate on the beach adjacent to the creek and was more than concerned when the recent creek opening discharged what he considered polluted waters onto the beach.
When the berm opened early on Fri Mar 17th, he noticed council staff and a photographer. (Editors Note: previous articles that have made reference to the opening stated that the photographer was from the Bay Post - this is in fact NOT Correct and the Beagle apologises to the Bay Post and to their journalist covering this story for taking that statement on trust - The Bay Post did not attend the opening for a full 24 hours after Mr Sethi claimed to have seen them on site - the photographer Mr Sethi saw is unknown) taking pictures of the opening. He also noticed a large fish kill. Convinced that he could smell sewer and in light of the Clyde River having an oyster growing industry and that children were playing in the creek water and on the beach adjacent to the creek opening he became concerned that there were no warning signs placed. About 5 p.m. on Friday Mar 17th he then wondered if any of the council staff that were on site that morning had reported the fish kill to the EPA and Fisheries. He rang the EPA and found that no one had reported it so he reported it (he remains convinced that it is the duty of Council, as a local authority, to report fish kills, especially if the kill is in proximity to one of its sewer pump stations). Council was first to attend was a Eurobodalla Shire Council environment officer who told Mr Sethi there was nothing to worry about because he could 'smell' that it wasn't sewage. Mr Sethi asked if the Council Officer was going to test the water and he insisted that it wasn't necessary! He then stated that "sewage doesn't kill fish, de-oxygenated water kills fish"? At which point Mr Sethi, convinced that he could smell sewerage, went back to his home to ring the EPA and ask if they were going to test the water. When he got through to the Head of Queanbeyan Operations – South East Region he was told that the EPA had already met with Eurobodalla Shire Council's environment officer and were on their way back to Queanbeyan WITHOUT having taken any water samples. Mr Sethi told the Head of Queanbeyan Operations – South East Region that was ridiculous and the following day EPA sent someone all the way back down to collect samples, which Mr Sethi was present for. On Thurs Mar 30, thirteen days later Mr Sethi met with EPA and Fisheries to discuss the results. He advised them that all he ever wanted was for someone independent of council to test the water and to then assure the community that the results showed the water was safe for children to swim in and it was safe for our oyster industry. He advised them of his concerns over the very strong smell of poo in the creek. They both assured him that the testing showed that they could give the 'all clear'. At this meeting Mr Sethi clearly explained that the creek had been thoroughly flushed during the Jun 2016 storms and stayed open and was again flushed by the Jan 13th,2017 King tides (i.e. the creek has only been closed for 1.5 months). This was confirmed to them by another local who attended. However, the stench of poo remained and having studied the report further Mr Sethi discovered that the counts reported by their tests were in excess of what is allowable and did not warrant an "all clear" at all. Given that the one test they did do was way above safe limits Mr Sethi could not understand why the beach had not been closed while further testing is carried out in accordance with their own regulations. He was advised in writing by the EPA that: On this occasion, the EPA considers that the results are not indicative of a discharge from the sewage reticulation system for the following reasons: ‘Thermotolerant Faecal Coliforms’ can be used as faecal pollution indicators as this bacteria occurs in warm blooded animals. Although faecal pollution indicators were present in the water samples, the levels are many orders of magnitude less than the levels in a raw effluent discharge; Bacterial levels will be elevated in a waterway such as Timbara Creek following a storm event as it is closed off to the ocean for extended periods during which time urban stormwater runoff will elevate bacterial levels up to 20,000 colony forming units per 100 millilitres following a storm event. The table below summarises the results of the EPA’s water samples that were collected on the 18 March 2017 and compares those results to the known quality of raw effluent in Batemans Bay.
Note that NHMRC (1990) guidelines used for compliance assessment in the BPP
Marine or estuarine waters are considered unsuitable for swimming if, for five samples taken at regular intervals over a period not exceeding one month:
• the median faecal coliform density exceeds 150 cfu/100 mL; or
• the second-highest faecal coliform density is equal to or greater than 600 cfu/mL; or
• the geometric mean enterococci density exceeds 33 cfu/100 mL. The report was provided to the Bay Post who published om March 30th, 2017 The fish kill at Timbara Creek, Surfside, in March has been attributed to low oxygen levels in the water by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA).
EPA regional operations south Nigel Sargent said testing of water from the creek and adjoining beach confirmed the fish died due to low oxygen levels – a blackwater event.
The EPA has since carried out more testing and it is now understood that preliminary results indicate that there is indeed evidence of faeces in the creek in proximity to the stench that Mr Sethi has reported on to both the EPA and to Council and that the enterococci counts are in the range of 700 to 1000 where a count of 40 is rated high enough to close a swimming area. A public health event can be conservatively defined as an occasion when a pollution source could cause enterococci levels in excess of the illness threshold of 40 cfu/100 mL at a swimming site Mr Sethi has been verbally advised by the EPA that faecal counts are very high in one particular area near the pump station in an arm of the creek. The EPA is now carrying out addition testing to confirm that the high counts are from human excrement carried by a sewer system rather than just possible dog poo washed into the creek after rains. Of interest to Mr Sethi is the fact that these findings are now coming to light several weeks after he raised the alarm when he suggested that warnings be displayed and that further investigations be carried out only to be told that it was “all clear” and dismissed by a Council environment officer who claimed all that was needed was his educated nose to say there wasn’t a problem. It appears that there was a problem. A possible poo problem. A failure to report a fish kill problem, a failure to conduct the required tests that identify aged faeces that alarm of a compromised sewer system problem and a failure to notify the oyster industry of a possible breach problem and to notify the public not to swim or fish in the creek problem. The EPA results will be made available once they are concluded and released. In the meantime, during thees school holidays, though here are no signs, caution might be suggested until the results are in.