The Byron Shire Council (BSC) has announced that they are scraping the sandbar at the entrance to Belongil Creek at Byron Bay this week, but one local landholder says this is too little, too late.
‘The water has been high for over four weeks now, and once again, the melaleuca trees on the floodplain are dying’, said local land holder, Tom Vidal.
‘But because they have waited so long to open the mouth of the estuary, if they do it now, without significant rain, then there is a big chance of a fish kill. We’ve had six flood events over the last two years, and the mouth opening strategy is just not working’.
The Union Drain system drains the area and turns it into useful farmland for grazing. When the Byron Bay Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) was built the landholders agreed to allow about one megalitre of treated STP water a day to help reduce peat fire risks and acid sulphate soils.
One of the conditions of consent for the EPA licence was that after 2002, any treated effluent being placed in the Belongil system would be matched by reuse and not dumped in the Belongil.
The Byron STP now runs up to five megalitres a day into the Union Drain, and thus into Belongil Estuary. BSC has failed to meet the requirement of new (the increasing amount) treated water being diverted into reuse programs.
‘This means that not only are they in breach of their operating conditions, but have left landholders with unusable farmland for over ten years.
‘The drains have been so full for so long, including with water from the STP, and because the mouth hasn’t been opened, that the banks of the drains are starting to collapse and trees are starting to fall into them’, Mr Vidal told The Echo.
As local hydrologist and member of the floodplain committee, Duncan Dey, told The Echo, ‘The problem is the increasing number of people connected to the STP without a review of the capacity of the receiving environment to cope’.
‘One option for Council is to say any new developments that want to connect to the STP can only produce the same amount of sewage as is currently being produced from that site that is being developed, while Council looks for future capacity’.