Programs and initiatives

Fishermans Bend groundwater studies

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Fishermans Bend is Australia’s largest urban renewal project, covering about 485 hectares in central Melbourne. The district will consist of five precincts across two municipalities – the cities of Melbourne and Port Phillip – and connect Melbourne’s CBD to Port Phillip Bay. It is expected that by 2050 it will be home to about 80,000 residents and provide employment for up to 60,000 people.

Following an extended community consultation, the Victorian Government released the Fishermans Bend Vision in September 2016. Planning is under way and involves the community at every step. A series of expert background reports will support informed decision making in the development of the Fishermans Bend Framework and the five subsequent precinct plans that will be available for consultation in 2017.

EPA’s role in Fishermans Bend

Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) provides comments on the environmental aspects of selected planning applications for proposed developments in Fishermans Bend. EPA is also providing assistance to the Fishermans Bend Taskforce with some of the background reports.

As part of this, EPA oversaw a groundwater study across the initial area of Fishermans Bend (part 1), and is overseeing part 2 in the Employment Precinct. The Employment Precinct was recently added to the district and is shown in the aerial image below (click for larger image).

Aerial view of the Fishermans Bend precincts

Key planning and environmental legislation and policies that apply in Fishermans Bend

A selection of key planning and environmental protection legislation and guidance documents are as follows:

The environmental challenges at Fishermans Bend

Historical industrial practices often present challenges when planning to develop land for residential and sensitive uses. This is no different with the proposed medium-to-high density residential development at Fishermans Bend.

Victoria’s environmental audit system, in place since 1989, is triggered when there is a change of land use to a more sensitive use, as will be the case with Fishermans Bend. The environmental audit system is used by planning authorities, government agencies and private landowners to determine the condition of a piece of land and its suitability for use, or to determine what’s required to make the land suitable for its intended use. The process is typically applied on a property-by-property basis.

Groundwater investigation is usually undertaken as part of the audit of each property in urban areas. Regional-scale infilling (where old waste was used to fill in former swamps to create flat ground), as has occurred historically in Fishermans Bend, affects groundwater quality beyond individual properties. An extensive investigative approach is needed to develop a complete picture of groundwater across the entire Fishermans Bend area, which is why EPA is undertaking the studies.

Questions and answers on Fishermans Bend

Q&A on the Fishermans Bend groundwater studies + Expand all Collapse all

  • Why are groundwater studies required?

    The groundwater studies will allow EPA Victoria and planning agencies to advise developers within Fishermans Bend on aspects of groundwater management that will require their attention.

    It will also further inform the DELWP-led Fishermans Bend Taskforce and development of the Fishermans Bend Framework and the five precinct plans.

  • How are the studies funded?

    EPA worked with the Metropolitan Planning Authority for the part 1 groundwater study. Part 2, which involves the recently added Employment Precinct, is funded by the Fishermans Bend Taskforce, which is managing the development of Fishermans Bend.

    The taskforce has asked EPA to manage a tender process and the groundwater study.

  • What are the objectives of the groundwater studies?

    The objectives are to:

    • determine the precinct-wide baseline groundwater quality, particularly focusing on the shallow groundwater table in contact with fill material (less than 5 m below the ground surface)
    • confirm the protected and precluded beneficial uses of groundwater across the study area
    • understand the potential risk of groundwater contamination to surface water receptors (including the Yarra River and Port Phillip Bay).
  • Where was groundwater testing conducted for part 1?

    All groundwater bores are on public land and predominantly in roadways – not on private land.

    The groundwater bores were drilled within the Capital City-zoned portion of Fishermans Bend (not including the Employment Precinct).

  • Is investigation of soil contamination part of the groundwater studies?

    The studies are focused on assessing regional groundwater quality. Limited soil sampling was completed for part 1 and will be included in part 2, to assist with understanding the potential transport of contaminants between regional infilling, general soil conditions and groundwater quality.

  • How was part 1 of the study conducted?

    Part 1 of the project was completed in stages:

    • Stage 1 – desktop study to document current understanding and data gaps.
    • Stage 2 – safety and stakeholder engagement plan used throughout the project to engage with the community on relevant matters and provide project updates.
    • Stage 3 – groundwater sampling and analysis plan, determining sampling locations and what potential contaminants would be tested for.
    • Stage 4 – field data collection, including drilling of bores for groundwater sampling following the sampling and analysis plan developed at stage 3, for baseline groundwater quality assessment.
    • Stage 5 – reporting baseline groundwater quality assessment.
    • Stage 6 – second round of groundwater sampling and reporting, to strengthen understanding of results.
  • What were the key findings of the part 1 groundwater study?

    The shallow groundwater table was intercepted at depth ranging from 0.9 to 3.6 metres below the surface.

    In a regional context, the shallow groundwater is likely to flow towards the south (i.e., the bay), based on the results of the part 1 study.

    A key determinant of what groundwater can be used for is how salty it is, which is measured by the amount of total dissolved solids (TDS). The reported concentrations of TDS varied across the area. Based on the lowest reported TDS concentration, the shallow groundwater has the potential to be a potable supply in some areas and should be protected to that extent.

    Despite this, part 1 of the study concluded that the groundwater is not suitable for drinking, as concentrations of metals and other contaminants in groundwater are at levels above the relevant guideline criteria for potable drinking water supply (Australian Drinking Water Guidelines).

    The study indicates the contaminants are likely to be either from diffuse sources or naturally occurring. It found elevated levels of:

    • nutrients, such as ammonia and nitrate
    • salts, such as chloride and sulfate
    • metals, such as arsenic, iron, manganese and nickel.

    The elevated contaminant levels described above potentially pose a risk to the surface water receptors that may be in connection with groundwater, such as the Yarra River and Hobsons Bay.

  • Can I read the full reports?

    Certainly. These are the full reports:

    We will publish the reports from part 2 (Employment Precinct) later in the year.

  • What do the key findings mean for groundwater users in Fishermans Bend?

    Based on the part 1 study, shallow groundwater in Fishermans Bend is not suitable for drinking without treatment or testing to confirm the suitability of its use at a specific location. This highlights the importance of testing bore water before use.

    EPA is:

    • publishing reports to keep groundwater users in Fishermans Bend informed about the groundwater pollution
    • meeting with community groups to inform them of the results of testing events from the groundwater studies
    • considering a long-term strategy of identifying a groundwater quality restricted use zone (GQRUZ) across the affected area
    • happy to answer any questions you may have regarding groundwater in Fishermans Bend.
  • What does it mean for land-use planning in Fishermans Bend?

    Before a sensitive development (such as residential use, a childcare centre, preschool centre or primary school) or use for agriculture or public open space occurs, a 53X environmental audit (in accordance with Part IXD of the Environment Protection Act) is required from an EPA-appointed environmental auditor.

    The part 1 report recommends that planning authorities consider the need for environmental audits for sites that are potential sources of pollution before redevelopment starts, irrespective of the proposed development.

  • How can the studies be used in site assessments during development?

    The part 1 baseline study report (PDF 21MB – very large file) provides additional information on geology, groundwater level and groundwater quality, which may provide further context when interpreting site-specific environmental assessment results. However, it does not replace or alter existing requirements for environmental assessment as part of the land-use planning process.

    Onsite sources of contamination must be investigated before identifying contaminants as regionally elevated or background levels, in line with current environmental assessment standards.

    Where groundwater is polluted to a level that it cannot be used for its designated beneficial uses under the State Environment Protection Policy (Groundwaters of Victoria) 1997 (PDF 250KB) and it has been managed and cleaned up to the extent possible (CUTEP), EPA has authority to identify a groundwater quality restricted use zone (GQRUZ) across the affected area.

    EPA and environmental auditors will consider the findings of the groundwater studies, together with site-specific information, when determining CUTEP for individual sites in Fishermans Bend.

  • What does it mean for below-ground construction and maintenance work?

    Ground excavation workers are likely to encounter groundwater in some parts of the study area. The groundwater may also seep into underground services pits or reticulated drinking water supplies.

    Due to the reported groundwater pollution levels, groundwater seeping into excavation or underground services pits needs to be managed according to the state environmental protection policies Prevention and Management of Contaminated Land (2002), Groundwaters of Victoria (1997) and Waters of Victoria (1990).

  • How will the community be kept informed?

    EPA Victoria is keen to engage with the community to ensure that residents’ and business owners’ concerns are acknowledged and addressed throughout the process. EPA currently meets regularly with the Port Phillip City Council Community Forum, and will keep the community informed of the progress and results of part 2 of the study.

    EPA Victoria can be contacted with any questions or concerns by calling 1300 372 842 (1300 EPA VIC) or by email.

  • What is the community forum?

    The Port Phillip City Council Community Forum is made up of 19 representative groups from the local community, including key residents groups such as the Fishermans Bend Network, Montague Alliance and Community Alliance Port Phillip.

    Members also include representatives of local businesses and landowners, the local heritage group, bicycle users group, a sustainability action committee and others.

  • What is the local councils’ role in this project?

    The local councils (and road authorities) gave consent to an EPA-appointed consultant, AECOM Australia, to drill and install bores on public land for part 1 of the groundwater study. EPA has again appointed AECOM Australia to undertake part 2, and they will work with the local councils and road authorities on part 2.

    General information from the two relevant councils can be found at these web pages:

Q&A on groundwater + Expand all Collapse all

  • What is groundwater?

    Groundwater is water that collects or flows beneath the soil surface, filling the porous spaces in soil, sand, clay and rocks.

    Groundwater is accessed using a bore.

  • What do we use groundwater for?

    Depending on the quality of groundwater, it can be used for a variety of purposes, such as drinking water, irrigation of crops (including domestic gardens) and parks, livestock water supply, industrial purposes and recreational purposes (such as filling swimming pools).

  • Do we drink groundwater?

    Most of Victoria’s drinking water supply is sourced from surface water – rivers, streams and reservoirs.

    Around 50 towns across Victoria are either partially or totally reliant on groundwater as their main source of drinking water. In the towns where groundwater is used as a source of drinking water, the water is treated to a drinking water standard by the relevant water business, in accordance with the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act 2003 and the Safe Drinking Water Regulations 2005.

    In some parts of rural Victoria, private groundwater bores are used as sources of drinking water. Where households use groundwater as their source of drinking water, it may need to be treated prior to use.

    All businesses and community groups that rely on a private water supply for drinking (potable) water must take all reasonable precautions to ensure the water is safe for human consumption. Water used for drinking or for cleaning of tableware or appliances used in food preparation must be potable by law.

    The Department of Health maintains guidelines (Department of Health and Human Services) that can assist food businesses to ensure that their water supply is safe for food preparation and human consumption.

  • How does groundwater become polluted?

    Groundwater pollution is usually the result of poor environmental care and practice, particularly in heavily populated industrial areas. Potential groundwater pollution is identified through a range of activities and programs that EPA Victoria regulates, including Victoria’s environmental audit system.

    Polluted groundwater is usually a long-term environmental legacy.

    Poor practices that have resulted in groundwater pollution include the poor storage or disposal of liquid to land and leaking underground storage tanks, which over time have become mixed with the groundwater. At surface level, pollution can occur when rain mixes with chemicals, which can then move through the soil and into the groundwater

  • What activities can cause groundwater pollution?

    The most common activities that have polluted or have the potential to pollute groundwater, unless properly managed, include:

    • waste disposal activities (for example, landfills, septic tanks, wastewater storage, irrigation and ash ponds)
    • bulk chemical storage (for example, underground petroleum storage tanks at service stations, or refineries)
    • application of agricultural chemicals
    • accidental chemical spills (such as from dry cleaning)
    • chemical manufacturing and storage facilities
    • electroplating
    • service stations, auto and other metal workshops
    • intensive agriculture
    • explosives manufacturing
    • tanneries
    • gasworks
    • car or textile manufacturers
    • filled quarries
    • bootmakers.
  • Can EPA prosecute groundwater polluters?

    Yes – pollution of groundwater is an offence under the Environment Protection Act and, therefore, where there is sufficient evidence, EPA Victoria can prosecute. However, sometimes prosecuting the polluter for groundwater pollution is difficult because it is often the result of industrial activity that may have occurred a long time ago and, in some instances, identifying the polluter is no longer possible.

    The Environment Protection Act does make provisions for the occupier or landowner to pursue compensation from known polluters for any costs they may incur for complying with an EPA notice. There is no reason why this course of action cannot be pursued if the groundwater pollution source is known.

  • Where can I get my bore water tested?

    Bore owners are responsible for making sure the bore water they use is fit for the intended use.

    To get your water tested, you should consult a suitably qualified environmental consultant or a NATA (National Association of Testing Authorities) accredited chemical analysis testing laboratory. These can be found by searching the telephone directory or by speaking to your water authority.

  • Where can I find out more information?

    Please call EPA Victoria’s Pollution Hotline on 1300 372 842 (1300 EPA VIC). If you would like to talk to an expert in this area, you can do so by contacting this number.

Page last updated on 1 Mar 2017