News and updates

EPA reviews its response to Gippsland sewer spill incident

12 Jul 2017

Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) has completed an internal review of how it responded to a sewer spill that occurred on a Flynn farm near Traralgon in February 2016.

The spill occurred from the Rosedale-Traralgon sewerage main – managed by Central Gippsland Regional Water Corporation (CGRWC) – due to an air valve failure on 1 February.

The review found that although the incident did not enter the broader environment, the sewage entered a farm dam used for stock watering and the contaminated water was used across the farm via stock watering troughs.

EPA did not attend the spill at the time after its preliminary assessment determined that the air valve, dam, and watering system had been isolated, the spill had been stopped and clean-up was underway.

However, EPA launched an internal review into the incident following new information it received in May this year that found the sewage spill caused the farmer significant economic impacts, and that a number of cattle had to be quarantined.

The review assessed CGRWC’s actions and response at the time of the incident, EPA’s response and the adequacy of EPA’s procedures.

It found:

  • EPA officers appropriately assessed the initial information provided by CGRWC against its triage policy (a risk-based prioritisation tool). The initial information provided did not indicate a significant environmental problem or outline the scale and impact of the spill.
  • CGRWC self-reported the spill to EPA and appropriately contained and cleaned up the spill.
  • EPA guidance indicates clear expectations on water corporations to report significant sewer spills.
  • EPA provided appropriate advice to the farmer, as requested, and appropriately recorded their interactions about the incident.
  • Identified areas for process/procedural improvement.

EPA’s Executive Director of Regulatory Services, Damian Wells said while review found both EPA and CGRWC broadly met expectations in response to the incident, it also found a number of areas for improvement.

“Despite EPA guidance clearly indicating expectations on water corporations reporting significant sewer spills, the report from Gippsland Water was delayed and did not meet these timelines or information expectations,” Mr Wells said.

“Gippsland Water self-reported the spill to EPA three hours after it was confirmed and while they have no legal obligation to report the spill, EPA guidelines stipulate notifications for spills such as this should be made within 30 minutes.

“The review also found further information could have been sought by the EPA officer from Gippsland Water which may have influenced a different response to the incident, a possible visit to the site and gathering evidence to support an infringement notice.”

Mr Wells said the panel had proposed some recommended changes including:

  • Amending EPA’s triage procedure to reinforce EPA’s expectation that its officers should make further enquiries of reports being assessed.
  • Reinforcing with water corporations EPA’s expectation regarding reporting incidents and follow up activities.
  • Reviewing and updating EPA’s publication on “Managing sewage discharge to Inland waters” and raising the profile of “EPA’s approach to pollution reports” and “EPA notification protocol for reporting high priority sewer spills” publications.
  • Raise with CGRWC the risks associated with their activities and the need to appropriately manage these risks.

Mr Wells said EPA was deeply concerned by the new information it received about the significant impact the spill had on the farmer and immediately established an internal panel to review its response to the incident.

“The review has helped to identify areas of improvement within EPA and in responding to sewer spills and will ensure the recommendations outlined in the report are put in place,” Mr Wells said.

“Through this review and the recommendations, EPA is sending a strong message to all water corporations in relation to their management of the sewerage system.” 

Page last updated on 12 Jul 2017