- Incident Date
- 28 January 2022
- Locations Affected
- South West
In February 2022 EPA received reports from the community about pollution in the Yarrowee River.
EPA has since undertaken many inspections of the area and has issued 5 remedial notices to a landowner in the area, Vista Estate Pty Ltd (Vista).
These notices required them to take action to prevent the discharge by putting in sediment controls, and develop a clean-up plan for the river.
In late 2021, vegetation and topsoil were removed from a section of land alongside the Yarrowee River. When it rains, large amounts of sediment can enter the river increasing turbidity levels. This not only reduces the clarity of the water but it also reduces available oxygen and sunlight to plants and animals living in the river system.
The decline in water quality can have long-term implications for flora and fauna.
Fine sediment in the water can form clumps which can dislodge plants, invertebrates and insects in the stream bank and bed. When the sediment eventually settles, it can smother fish and frog eggs. Further rainfall or water flow in the river can re-suspend the sediment. This can cause the water to become murky again, further impacting flora and fauna.
Compliance and enforcement
Vista Estate Pty Ltd has been issued an order by the Supreme Court to implement controls to reduce the risk of sediment discharge that is allegedly causing damage to the Yarrowee River.
This action follows multiple inspections of the site as well as having issued 5 remedial notices to the land manager.
Under Notice, the EPA required the landowner to develop an appropriate plan for the clean-up of the Yarrowee River. EPA required the landowner to:
- manage the risk
- undertake the clean-up of the sediment that has impacted sections of the river
- prevent the discharge by installing sediment controls
- develop a clean-up plan for the river.
EPA took court action because we were not satisfied with the timeliness and extent of the clean-up plan, or the ongoing maintenance of controls.
The general environmental duty (GED) is at the centre of the Environment Protection Act 2017, and it applies to all Victorians. The GED focuses on reducing the risk and not causing harm to human health and the environment.
EPA authorised officers and investigators work within the legal powers under the Environment Protection Act 2017. They gather evidence that guides and supports the EPA’s compliance and enforcement actions. This may include:
- doing water sampling
- conducting site inspections
- obtaining documents and witness statements.
Investigations can take many months to complete. This ensures that all avenues for investigation have been explored, that all evidence is obtained, and EPA is meeting all its legal obligations to support any potential enforcement.
Interim Court Orders
The interim court orders require, in summary, that Vista put controls in place to:
- Maintain a freeboard at a minimum of 500mm between rainfall events in the existing retarding basins on the premises.
- Reduce the risk of sediment discharge from the premises into Yarrowee river as far as reasonably practicable.
- Monitor and assess stormwater discharge from the premises against upstream water quality.
These controls are to ensure that sediment discharge from the premises does not significantly affect the river's pH levels. It will also ensure that water turbidity does not exceed levels assessed upstream.
Vista are also required to do water quality monitoring under the orders. This will take place upstream of stormwater discharge and at two points downstream of stormwater discharge. Vista must provide results to EPA within 48 hours of receiving results.
Monitoring at Yarrowee River
As part of our compliance monitoring, we have deployed water quality monitoring equipment in the Yarrowee River.
The equipment includes a water quality monitoring station. This allows EPA to remotely track the health of the Yarrowee River. We use an instream measuring device called a ‘sonde’.
The sonde measures temperature, depth, pH level, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, and turbidity.
These are all important measures in understanding the river’s health. They also help us to check compliance with the Interim Court Order requirements.
Sondes send measurements remotely to a team of our water scientists to review.
Our equipment is sensitive to changes in position. Monitoring data can be affected if the sonde is displaced by human intervention.
We are using security cameras to check the flow and condition of the Yarrowee River. The cameras will also monitor our equipment. The cameras are necessary to prevent interference.
Interfering with EPA monitoring is an offence under s.462 of the Environment Protection Act 2017.
We will update the page when further information becomes available.
EPA welcomes community reports through our contact centre on the following:
Reviewed 9 December 2022