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Byron Shire
June 2, 2023

Is polluting a lake in a national park to support new housing ok?

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Salty Lagoon, 1 April 2006. Photo supplied

The State government is pushing for the Northern Rivers to significantly increase its population in the next 20 years, this is unlikely to change with the new Labor government considering the housing shortage, but the real question is how do we process all the waste, in particular the waste from our bottoms?

From Byron Bay to Evans Head to Casino the question of how we deal with, what is politely termed ‘effluent’, and how that may or may not destroy our local environment is a real, and pressing question as the current infrastructure struggles to take the strain. If it can’t, it can lead to fish kills, bird deaths and the destruction of waterways so that people can no longer swim in and enjoy them.

Can we process it?

One of the critical decisions in determining whether consent can be given for development, such as new subdivision of land and housing developments by local councils is whether essential services such as sewage treatment plants (STP) and an adequate supply of water, are available or that adequate arrangements have been made for them when required. The supply of water, disposal and management of sewage, stormwater drainage and suitable road access are among the list of those requirements. Development consent must not be granted if these services can’t be supplied.  

Salty Lagoon, 2004. Photo supplied

Evans Head STP reaching capacity

Large-scale residential developments such as the Iron Gates at Evans Head and a 60 residential site subdivision on floodplains at Broadwater, are both in the Richmond Valley local government area. Both are unlikely to meet social housing and re-accommodation needs. Neither have been approved yet and the Iron Gates development is before the Land and Environment Court (L&EC) following the refusal of the Northern Regional Planning Panel (NRPP) to give consent and challenge from the developer’s company Goldcoral Pty Ltd (in external administration).  

Both developments require the services of the sewerage treatment plant (Licence #2386) at Evans Head with the Broadwater subdivision to pump its raw sewage to the Evans Head plant for treatment. 

One of the problems with the Evans Head Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) is that it appears to be reaching capacity and may not be able to meet the requirement for sewerage services for future development. According to a recent consultant’s report Richmond Valley Council is ‘currently considering upgrade options for the Evans Head STP, including the option to continue discharging into the Salty Lagoon system’ and they warned that ‘Potential future STP upgrade options that result in increased discharge volumes or pollutant levels should consider potential impacts on the Salty Lagoon system during the planning phase’”.

The Richmond Valley Council plans to ‘provide an additional 2,500 local homes’ by 2041 (March newsletter #57).

Duck kill at Salty Lagoon, 5 December 2005. Photo supplied

Bird and fish deaths

The Salty Lagoon system is an Intermittently Closing and Opening Lake or Lagoon (ICOLL) in Broadwater National Park to the north of Evans Head. It has been the recipient of effluent from the Evans Head STP before which led to a massive fish and bird kill in December 2005. That was despite warnings from local residents that the ICOLL, and the associated creek to the north, were in big trouble from pollution from the STP. 

Salty Lagoon pollution sign. Photo supplied

18 years later still not safe for swimming

Extensive algal blooms in the Lagoon were fertilised by partially-treated effluent from the STP. This effluent was a major source of nitrogen and phosphorus, and lake waters were contaminated by bacteria making the lake and creek system unsafe for fishing and swimming. Many birds died from botulism poisoning, an infection which attacks the nervous system, and fish died from lack of oxygen not unlike the problem seen in the Menindee Lakes in western NSW. Warnings against recreational activity in Salty Lagoon continue to this day, despite 18 years to clean up the mess created by the STP effluent. 

Duck kill at Salty Lagoon, 5 December 2005. Photo supplied

A spokesperson for Evans Head Residents for Sustainable Development (EHRSD) said today that it is hard to believe that Richmond Valley Council is contemplating increased discharge in the Salty Lagoon System and that National Parks appears to be agreeing to this arrangement.

‘National Parks should have insisted that the ICOLL be cleaned up following the 2005 episode so that it could be used again for recreational purposes. The lake continues to be impaired by legacy pollutants which are still creating algal blooms, some of which are known to be toxic, and while there appears to be a gradual dissipation of some of the pollutants there is still a problem in a lake in a National Park almost two decades later.

Salty Lagoon, 17 October 2003. Photo supplied

‘Now Council wants to add to the burden of the lake again through increased discharge from housing which may not meet social or flood displaced individual needs at all?!  This is a generational and intergenerational equity issue which Council, National Parks and the State government need to deal with now. They have an obligation to do so under local government and other state legislation under the Principles of Ecologically Sustainable Development. They have an obligation to the Aboriginal community for which the lake system has major cultural significance.

‘State and local governments still continue to fail to look at the “Carrying Capacity” of the land and its ability to provide the necessary environmental services so essential to our survival. We know from previous study that Northern NSW is already past its carrying capacity yet no-one in power pays any attention to this problem. 

‘This is a “Tragedy of the Unmanaged Commons” where no-one appears to take genuine responsibility for the long-term health of the Far North Coast. Let’s destroy an iconic lake in a National Park so we can have more houses!’

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  1. Permission to build on flood plains is crazy and shouldn’t be allowed. Any proposed developments should take into account the maximum number of dwellings, and water and sewage treatment plants be built before the houses. Then hopefully, our wildlife will be safe from contamination.

  2. This is a tragedy that has been growing worse over the years. However, there is no excuse for such human behaviour to continue destroying the environment. Power and more Power to the Residents that are standing up for Sustainable Development. The struggle is constant but so worth it and indeed all future sentient beings will benefit in the long run. Keep the Public informed and report destruction to Authorities…change is coming. Best of luck.

  3. 400,000 third-world migrants in the last 12 months. Signalling they are going to increase that number over the next two years they say. Just going to have to cut down more trees to build more houses so we’re not racist. Mass migration to grow the economy is the only way we can become an effluent nation they said. Go green energy bills!

    • The racist flavour being sprinkled again.
      We still waiting for that list of ‘third world shithouse countries’.


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