Salty Lakes Algal Bloom Continues

About 5 kms to the north of the village of Evans Head lies an intermittently closing and opening lake and lagoon system called Salty Lagoon officially and Salty Lakes by locals.

About 5 kms to the north of the village of Evans Head along the main beach lies an intermittently closing and opening lake and lagoon system (ICOLL) called “Salty Lagoon”, officially, and “Salty Lakes” by locals.  The ICOLL is located in Broadwater National Park and was once part of the World War II No.1 Bombing and Gunnery School.  From time to time the creek opens into the ocean releasing huge volumes of water from the creek and the lake.

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.

Salty Lagoon from the air.  Note the extensive dieback of paperbarks.  On the right hand side there is an artificially dug canal which joins the lake to the creek which runs to the ocean from time to time.  The canal was dug in the 1960's or early 1970's to drain the polluted lake

Salty Lagoon from the air. Note the extensive dieback of paperbarks. On the right hand side there is an artificially dug canal which joins the lake to the creek which runs to the ocean from time to time. The canal was dug in the 1960’s or early 1970’s to drain the polluted lake

Ground truthing showed extensive death of the normally hardy paperbarks

Ground truthing showed extensive death of the normally hardy paperbarks

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.

Sign from an effective constructed wetland system in Sydney.  Similar systems already exist in Casino and Lismore and Byron Bay

Sign from an effective constructed wetland system in Sydney. Similar systems already exist in Casino and Lismore and Byron Bay in Northern NSW

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:

Load based Licencing requirements set out in Council's licence to pollute a lake in a National Park

Load based licencing requirements set out in Council’s licence-to-pollute-a -lake-in-a-National-Park.  Council can dump up to 9.63 tonnes of nitrogen, 4.8 tonnes of oil and grease and 482 kgs of phosphorus per annum.

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:

Dredge in Salty Creek

Dredge in Salty Creek

The dredge pumped sand into the canal:

Sand being pumped into the canal

Sand being pumped 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:

The filled in canal

The filled in canal

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.

Water flow from Salty Lagoon into Salty Creek

Water flow from Salty Lagoon into Salty Creek

The flows smell ‘sulphurous’ and contain algal materials:

Water flows to creek from the lake, of which there are several, smell and show evidence of the effects of nutrients.

Water flows to creek from the lake, of which there are several, smell and show evidence of the effects of nutrients.

Salty Lagoon itself also contains lots and lots of algal growth:

Algal blooms in Salty Lagoon are extensive raising significant questions about the appropriateness of the canal fill scheme in solving the lakes pollution problem

Algal blooms in Salty Lagoon are extensive raising significant questions about the appropriateness of the canal fill scheme in solving the lakes pollution problem.

The filled canal sports its own algal blooms along with many dead plants from the unnecessary plantings.

The filled canal sports its own algal blooms along with many dead plants from the unnecessary plantings.

There is clear evidence that the canal has overtopped during recent rainfall events:

The white sand fill shows evidence of streaking from overtopping from the lake.  90% of the plants in the green protection collars are dead

The white sand fill shows evidence of streaking from overtopping from the lake. 90% of the plants in the green protection collars are dead.  The lake bottom was once white sand.  No so anymore.

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.

Current sign at entrance to lake system clearly stating that the lake is unsuitable for swimming.

Current sign at entrance to lake system clearly stating that the lake is unsuitable for swimming.

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.

Dead duck in Salty Lakes as a result of sewage from Richmond Valley council

Dead duck in Salty Lakes as a result of sewage from Richmond Valley council

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!

 

This entry was posted in Broadwater National Park, Editorial, Evans Head, Evans Head Sewerage Treatment Plant, Pollution, Pollution, Richmond Valley Council, Salty Lagoon, Salty Lagoon, Salty Lakes and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.