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Byron Shire
August 9, 2022

‘Several weeks’ before Ballina waters safe for swimming, says council

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Recent sunshine on the Northern Rivers isn’t enough to warrant a dip in Ballina’s oceans and waterways with the council warning pollution post-floods could take several weeks to subside.

Council workers were testing for the presence of faeces in the water after two sewage treatment plants in Lismore were damaged when floods first broke levees on 28 February.

Floodwater appears to have impacted ocean fish. This 30+ year old giant grouper was found dead on the beach of the Richmond River at Ballina recently. Believed to have been killed by pollution from the floods, there were no signs of bites from sharks etc on the body. Photo Leo Zetlin.

Lismore’s two broken plants had been dumping around four megalitres of raw sewage per day into the Wilsons River ever since.

The Wilsons River fed into Ballina’s Richmond River but Ballina Shire Council Environmental Officer Tom McAully Rix said it was impossible to guage the impact of the raw sewage further downstream.

Updates were being sought from the Lismore City Council on the status of the plants at South and East Lismore, Mr McAully Rix said.

Something in the water

Ballina Shire Council information online said water samples were tested for the presence of a bacteria called enterococci.

‘Enterococci is found in the intestines of warm-blooded animals and excreted in faeces and rarely present in unpolluted waters,’ the information said.

‘The bacteria is found in very high numbers in raw sewage which makes it a good indicator of sewage pollution,’ the information continued.

‘Studies have shown a strong relationship between elevated levels of enterococci and illness rates in swimmers.’

The information noted enterococci itself didn’t cause illness, but its presence meant illness-causing sewage and possibly other pathogens were in the water.

Council workers weren’t checking waters for anything besides faeces but Mr McAully Rix said they would undertake targeted sampling if they received reports of other contamination.

‘We’ve heard about oil drums floating downstream and being washed up on beaches but no specific events requiring sampling,’ Mr McAully Rix said.

‘But unless there’s a specific incident like a petrol station getting flooded or something like that, we won’t be testing for other contaminants,’ he said.

Water quality results can’t be guaranteed

Council workers were said to be taking samples of Ballina Shire waters on Thursday with results expected to be released to the public next Tuesday or Wednesday.

The latest test results for the Ballina Shire came from samples taken on 14 April and were available via the Ballina Shire Council website.

They showed results for samples taken at fourteen sites around the shire including Shaws Bay; Lake Ainsworth; The Spit (the dogs beach part of Missingham Beach); The Serpentine (to the north of Missingham Bridge on the western side); and Lighthouse, Shelley and Seven Mile Beaches.

Results ranged from bad through poor and fair to good but Mr McAully Rix said various factors meant water quality results at any one time couldn’t be guaranteed.

‘Oceans are harder to predict, particularly with tides, swell, wind and currents,’ Mr McAully Rix told The Echo on Thursday.

‘The water quality can change quite dramatically within a short amount of time,’ Mr McAully Rix said.

‘On the hide tide you’ll get cleaner, bluer water coming in but on the lower tide you’ll get a lot of dirty water coming out the river,’ he said.

Mr McAully Rix said sampling had shown bad water quality in Ballina’s beaches and rivers near estuaries at low tide.

Dogs, fish and marine life beyond the Northern Rivers all at risk

Mr McAully Rix said the council had warning signs at beaches and waterways about the flood-induced hazards and the public seemed to be taking the council’s advice seriously.

There weren’t many people swimming, he said, and just a handful of surfers taking the risk at beaches.

The NSW Food Authority was also warning fishers to take extra care and to avoid consuming shellfish from flood-impacted waters.

A spokesperson for Ballina Vet Hospital advised people against letting dogs swim or drink from oceans and waterways in the Ballina Shire.

The spokesperson said while a direct link between water pollution and illnesses recently reported to the hospital couldn’t be confirmed, there were several ‘bugs’ going around for dogs, including stomach bugs.

Mr McAully Rix said because this year’s floods were unprecedented, it was too soon to say what sort of impacts the pollution would have on the marine environment beyond Ballina.

Research was happening at Southern Cross University into potential impacts, Mr McAully Rix said.

Further north in the Byron Shire, more water quality test results were expected to be published on the Byron Shire Council website on Thursday afternoon.

Byron Shire Council workers were only taking samples from five locations: Tallow, Main and Clarkes Beaches in Byron Bay and Torakina Beach and Simpsons Creek in Brunswick Heads.

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  1. Surely that would mean that places like Broken and Lennox are dicey?
    Has Council provided any detailed reports in these areas ?

  2. As the weather gets drier over winter, the flow in the river should decrease meaning the concentration of raw sewage as a percentage of river flow will increase. If raw sewage keeps getting dumped in the river at Lismore, it is unlikely that Ballina will have water free from sewage contamination.

    Lismore Council has had poor management for 20+ years, and it is now obvious with a failure of pretty well all council infrastructure (roads are unfit for purpose, water costs the most in Australia and is unreliable, raw sewage is being dumped in the river, highest rates in the region – and all this poor management must cost Lismore ratepayers thousands of dollars extra per year) that something needs to be done.

    The state government should create an infrastructure commission to manage the infrastructure in Lismore, and leave the Council with the remaining council activities. The state government should immediately get the NRRC to take over repairs the Lismore sewage treatment plants to remove the risk to health to all people downstream of Lismore (including Ballina).

  3. If you go to the Wardell Core sight you will see footage of sewer main surcharging back up through man hole cover …this means that water getting into pipe , so my questionis …..how can we be sure of accuracy of wastetwater treatment fee on water rates that is an average ….think its about $1800 per annum…..

  4. Look at the size of that fish . Massive . The big ones are usually females . The breeders of the healthiest , largest progeny . It’s a tragic loss. Like in the Darling. It takes a lot more than piddle and poo to kill a fish. Chemical runoff from the land and in the sewerage . Plus to much chemical fertiliser on crops, eg: sugar cane . Poison . Not from an old cattle farm, it’s from the monoculture fruit and nut farms. They’re spraying heaps of toxic sprays all through the year . And it is possible to grow nuts without poisonous sprays . They get more for their produce Coz it’s clean organic . Just have to put a few more workers on . Do it manually . It works out more profitable in the end. Rather than spend heaps on toxic poison and poison yourself and your family while doing it . A perfect example is warringah golf club about 25 years ago. The worker was spraying for bindii and broad leaf weeds on the fairway near one small part of the course . Had a little accident and spilled a few litres of unmixed chemical , pure poison , near the green . So he washed it away with water and it went into brookvale creek about 40 feet away. That tiny bit washed down to manly lagoon and killed every fish in the creek and lagoon from brooky all the way to queens cliff where the outlet is to the sea . Guessing about 6 ks of creek and lagoons . . It was like the darling river only in the middle of Sydney suburbia. The surface of the creek was covered in dead fish from Warringah Mall at brooky to queens cliff beach . The locals could not believe how many dead fish there were in the creek . Truck loads , semi trailer loads . A massive slaughter ..That’s how potent poison sprays are . They shouldn’t be allowed to use them . Got on fine before 1970 . Before the petro companies invented them . It’s also the slag waste off steel mills . It’s a toxic waste that they found a use for that’s killing us .. Filthy chemicals . Before 1970 . They got by fine without using them. Again it’s just put on a few more workers rather than one worker spraying , trying to do the work that 2 or 3 should be doing . Just charge more for your product to cover costs . And the cost of chemical fertiliser and spray is staggering . Way to much . For the health of our land and waterways and people it has to change . The gov could be helping with this to make it happen rather than just sticking their heads in the sand and hoping it’ll go away and kow toing to big overseas business .


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