Management of the Byron Bay Sewage Treatment Plant and its impacts upon the Belongil Estuary was thrashed out at Council’s August 5 meeting, with councillors deciding to undertake ‘a review of the current Opening Strategy for the Belongil ICOLL to determine whether it is impacting adversely on upstream lands within the Drainage Union catchment and/or flooding issues within the Byron Bay township.’
Waste water volumes from the STP are estimated to be up to five megalitres a day, and have been an issue for more than ten years. They have led to fish kills, Melaleuca tree dieback, erosion of the Union Canal, and long-term flooding of farmers’ fields, rendering them useless for either cropping or grazing say according to landholders and environmentalists.
Despite the ecological impacts, Council proposes to increase the STP flow up to ten megalitres a day, as part of the additional flow path (overland flow route) project.
Yet the Belongil Catchment Drainage Board (BDCB), who manage the Union Drain through which the excess STP flow runs, told The Echo they object to ‘the current, insufficient design of the flow path (no design south of Ewingsdale Road), and strongly object to any additional water flows into the system’.
They did, however, say they appreciate Council’s efforts and support the flow path ‘in principle’.
‘An EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] should be required before any upgrades/expansions to the STP’, the Board says.
Hydrologist and Greens Mayor aspirant, Duncan Dey, agrees with the Board and told The Echo, ‘Integration is what is needed here’.
He said, ‘The current Entrance Opening Strategy (EOS) is one of Council’s newest strategies – studies for its creation were undertaken in 2019. This review can shine a light on the performance of the mechanical openings of the Belongil. But what is really needed is to address the big wet elephant on the room: the input of five megalitres per day of treated sewage (plus more in wet weather).’
Conflict of objectives
Mr Dey points out that Council staff say in their comments on NoM 9.8, that management objectives within the Entrance Opening Strategy conflict with each other, as they attempt to maintain natural processes, and at the same time, limit inundation on agricultural land.
‘Interestingly, the Additional Flow Path project was Report 13.27 to that Council meeting. Its cost has just risen by $1m to about $2.5m.
‘Despite it being advertised by Council as a stormwater project, it is fully funded by the Sewer Fund, including a transfer of $1m to the General Fund (the one responsible for stormwater)’, said Mr Dey.
‘The Additional Flow Path project was yet another of Council’s own. It was self-approved under the Infrastructure SEPP (like the Belongil rockwall, and the Byron bypass).
Mr Dey added, ‘Presentation to the public as a stormwater project and design that did not examine 100-year flood scenarios must have been to protect residents of the A&I Estate from the truth; that treated sewage will reach their streets in extreme wet weather’.