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Byron Shire
September 27, 2021

Nothing clear or transparent about Mullum’s sewage system

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Alan Dickens, Brunswick Heads.

‘Clear and transparent’. These were the words put forward by the Byron Council’s citizens jury, – words that the community should expect our Council to practise.

Unfortunately at the first hurdle they’ve fallen. On 31 May the Waste Water Advisory Committee (WWAC) was asked to consider a Low Pressure Sewer Pump System (LPSPS) trial in Mullumbimby; this involved a line of 20 to 30 houses.

The WWAC asked for a consultant to be brought in to compare the LPSPS with a vacuum system and the findings to be presented to the next WWAC meeting.

Tuesday week ago the head design engineer and the co-ordinator of W&R met with an expert on vacuum systems from Flovac, discussion was held on extending the Byron industrial estate vacuum system with no mention of Mullumbimby. Somehow the recommendation and minutes now merely ask councillors to approve the LPSPS trial.

So the councillors understand what they’ve approved. The LPSPS involves a pod located on the person’s property that holds raw sewerage, plus the installation of a power board that is connected to the household power supply.

In 2010 this system was costed at $19,000 per property in Mullumbimby. This trial has been explained as being a means to identify the worst areas of infiltration in Mullumbimby.

I have spoken to several hydraulic engineers who fail to understand how installing 30 LPPs will give indication of infiltration as there is nothing to cross reference it against.

I don’t believe this is a trial. W&R will claim the trial is successful and continue installing a LPSPS in Mullumbimby. Does any councillor believe once this LPSPS is in place it will be removed?

Councillors, it makes absolute sense to have a consultant come in and supply an independent report on the most cost-effective, most unobtrusive and efficient system for Mullumbimby.

Councillors should pass a rescission motion and prevent this costly trial until what was agreed to happens: a comparison of two systems is investigated and the results presented to the WWAC for their recommendation to Council.

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  1. 1. Support for a low pressure pump system (LPPS) should not proceed until there is a comparative cost/benefit analysis with a vacuum system
    (a) Cr Simon Richardson has indicated to a community member that he is of the opinion that the latter is not only cheaper but more reliable.
    (b) A former Councillor and now a member of the Waste Water Advisory Committee said directly to me that his support for the LPPS was based on the fact that ‘at least staff are doing something”. I do not believe that to be representing any sound reasoning but rather frustration at the scale of the infiltration problem known for decades to exist in the Mullumbimby reticulation system

    2. The Utilities Manager has failed to provide evidence, as at 14.12.17 in answer to a Question on Notice, of any follow up inspection reports on faulty/illegal connections or action taken on non-compliance. This project cost the ratepayers $1.5m. The failure to meet the project’s mission is in the Mullumbimby Sewerage System Inflow and Infiltration Programme Final Project Review June 2010 page 14 wherein it is stated that 704 properties were inspected, 321 were defective, 239 have been repaired, 34 repairs are in progress and 48 had no response (15%).

    In the same report it is stated, “The retrofitting of a Low Pressure uPmping System (LPPS) to the Mullumbimby sewerage reticulation system would have a high capital cost and will not eliminate stormwater inflow and infiltration because defects in the upstream private sewers will continue to be a problem and source of stormwater ingress. For these reasons and given the capacity of the BASAS, implementation of a LPPS is not recommended.” At this stage, Council’s documents indicate support for leaving the condition of the gravity mains in their current condition.

    Trialling a LPPS has no credibility given the 30.9.10 final report wherein at page 4 it is stated that experience with one property where a LPPS was installed, indicated wet weather flows were up to 20 times the dry weather flow due to stormwater ingress through defects in the upstream private sewers on the property.

    3. The New Brighton Sewerage Strategy did a comparative analysis of gravity, vacuum, LPPS and no change to the septic systems or their equivalent. The report recommended a vacuum system. For some peculiar reason a LPPS was installed. I am unaware of any information on the operational and electricity costs of that system to date. I am aware that (a) property owners have been unaware of electricity charges being connected to their power bills and (b) a number of pumps have had to be replaced within what would otherwise be considered their life expectancy.

    The Shire’s ratepayers are deserving, at least, of a comparable study on LPPS and vacuum system!!!!

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