Despite community protest, clear scientific evidence and complaints from National Parks on four separate occasion, Richmond Valley Council, and its predecessor Richmond River Shire Council, dumped partially-treated effluent into the lake system creating algal blooms and fish and birds kills
The once pristine lake system was reduced to a forest of dead and dying paperbarks and stinking waters full of algae.
After coverage of the problem by the ABC’s 7:30 Report and substantial political and public pressure Council finally decided to upgrade the sewerage treatment plant. This lead to a reduction in the nutrients flowing into the lake and there was an improvement in the quality of water. But the problem continues as even with the new sewerage treatment plant nitrogen and phoshorus are dumped into the waterway leading to the National Park.
The so-called Environment Protection Authority, a misnomer if there ever was one, licenses Council to continue to pollute local waterways instead of getting them to put in place a management system which would stop nutrients and other nasties getting into local waterways and the National Park altogether.
The EPA tends to use a ‘one-size-shoe-fits-all’ model in determining standards for discharge and fails to recognise that local nutrient levels in coastal lake systems in northern NSW are very very low or oligotrophic.
But more than that they fail to recognise that the pH (acidity) of local waters are also very low and have set discharge standards for pH which are far too high. The EPA has been informed of this problem on many occasions but fails to change the discharge limits to suit local waterways which sets up a series of problems for the local environment including increased risk of botulism.
The community suggested a constructed wetland to filter discharge and change the pH based on the experience and knowledge of local specialists with a proven track record who offered their services free of charge, but council and the EPA failed to pursue the approach through pig-headedness and a rigid adherence to old-fashioned engineering methods.
A constructed wetland system could have been built several times over now with the amount of money wasted on old-fashioned method investigations including an ocean outfall, yes, an ocean outfall! Hard to believe but true. An ocean outfall to solve a pollution problem!!!
Basically council pays a tiny fee to pollute the local waterways in the National Park as shown in the table below, so there is little incentive to do much:
A couple of years ago council decided that it would fill in the canal joining the lake to the creek to stop the ingress of salty water from the creek in order to “improve” the lake not appreciating the lake had always been connected to the creek before the canal was dug.
So in the middle of winter 2012 and at great expense council arranged for a dredge to take sand from the creek and put it into the canal:
The dredge pumped sand into the canal:
Eventually the canal was filled and vegetation, some of it completely inappropriate to the local environment, was planted in the new sand:
Water from the lake now finds its way to the east of the canal into the low area behind the sand hills with flows into the creek.
The flows smell ‘sulphurous’ and contain algal materials:
Salty Lagoon itself also contains lots and lots of algal growth:
There is clear evidence that the canal has overtopped during recent rainfall events:
When you stop and think about it, filling in the canal to its present height was an expensive and dumb idea.
The lake had always had a connection with the creek allow the interchange of salty water from the ocean with the lake. It was never a freshwater system. It was a brackish nursery for fish and crustaceans. But more than that it is dumb to continue to dump large quantities of fertiliser into a lake system and expect it to recover. If you keep fertilising the system of course it is going to continue to produce algal blooms which will draw oxygen out of the lake.
It would have been much much cheaper to have built an artificial wetland near the sewerage treatment plant to clean up the water before it got into the National Park rather than running an expensive trial requiring lots of monitoring over five years to see if it might work to clean up the lake.
Salty lake and creek continue to be unsuitable for swimming and that might include for birds as there were only a handful of brown ducks on the lake today when it was visited.
It is hard to believe in this day and age that our environmental protectors, the EPA, continue to allow pollution to be dumped into a lake in a National Park. Perhaps they might be better called the ‘Environment Pollution Authority’ for after all they issue licences to pollute and are responsible for the death of our wildlife and pollution of a lake in a National Park aided and abetted by a council which has just reduced Section 64 Developer Contributions for sewerage from $26,000 per ET to $8,000, a 70% reduction in fees for infrastructure.
Council has told the community on many occasions it doesn’t have the money to pay for sewerage works. So how can a 70% reduction in developer fees for sewerage help us in the long run catch up on our enormous infrastructure backlog and bring out STP’s to a standard fit for the environment.
Council clearly is in breach of it Charter (Section 8) under the local government act. The charter requires council to not only consider the effects of its decisions on future generations but is required to consider the environmental consequences of its actions and have in place appropriate pricing mechanisms to look after the environment. It fails on all counts and our lake system is suffering as a consequence.
But one thing is for certain, the consultants are doing well!