Remediation approach for Boundary Creek and Big Swamp – Section 78 notice released
Barwon Water welcomes the direction from the Minister for Water in relation to a legally enforceable remediation plan for Boundary Creek, Big Swamp and surrounding environments impacted by past groundwater extraction at Barwon Downs, under Section 78 (s78) of the Water Act 1989.
The notice includes the following directions:
- Barwon Water discontinue any extraction activities, other than for maintenance and emergency response purposes, while the assessment is being completed and until all remediation work dictated under the remediation plan has been completed.
- Barwon Water prepare and implement a remediation and environmental protection plan for Boundary Creek, Big Swamp and surrounding area.
Managing Director Tracey Slatter said Barwon Water has already been working proactively on activities consistent with these objectives, which are now legally enshrined in the s78 notice.
“I wrote to Southern Rural Water in November 2017 to advise that we would not operate the borefield during the licence renewal process except for maintenance purposes,” Ms Slatter said.
“Barwon Water is undertaking significant consultation with the community and key stakeholders, and has established a community and stakeholder working group to design the remediation plan,” Ms Slatter said.
“This group has met three times already and is benefiting from the advice of three independent technical experts, who they nominated to support them in their discussions. These experts are currently collaborating with the community and stakeholder working group and our existing technical consultant to refine the remediation concept and plan,” Ms Slatter said.
“Barwon Water is committed to providing our customers and community with affordable, secure and quality water while protecting and enhancing the environment in which we operate” Ms Slatter said.
Southern Rural Water and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning are working together to review the overall permissible consumptive volume for the Gerangamete Groundwater Management Area. Barwon Water is supporting this process, by providing numerous technical and scientific studies developed over the previous five years.
Frequently asked questions
What is the geographic area covered by the Section 78 notice?
The s78 notice issued by Southern Rural Water defines the area as “Boundary Creek, Big Swamp and the surrounding environment” with directions for Barwon Water to further define and describe the area as a part of the ‘scope of works’ document. The ‘scope of works’ document will be reviewed by SRW and an Independent Technical Review Panel to confirm whether the geographic area they have defined is adequate.
What process will be followed with the Section 78?
By 20 December 2018: Barwon Water must submit a ‘scope of works’ for approval. The s78 notice provides guidance on what needs to be considered and how the document should be prepared.
For example, the notice specifies that Barwon Water must engage with the local community and other relevant stakeholders in developing its remediation plan.
Once submitted, Southern Rural Water and its Independent Expert Review Panel will review the ‘scope of works’ and will advise any required changes.
During the development of the “Boundary Creek, Big Swamp and Surrounding Environment – Remediation and Environmental Protection Plan” (the Plan) Barwon Water is required to engage with the community and relevant stakeholders, as well as providing quarterly updates to Southern Rural Water and consult with its Independent Expert Review Panel where appropriate.
By 20 December 2019: Barwon Water is required to submit the Plan for review. Once the Plan is submitted, it will be reviewed by the Southern Rural Water and its Independent Technical Review Panel, and Southern Rural Water will advise any changes required to ensure its approval.
By March 2020: Barwon Water is required to finalise the Plan and begin to implement it.
The notice remains in effect until Barwon Water can demonstrate to the satisfaction of Southern Rural Water that the Plan has been implemented and the agreed measures and outcomes have been achieved.
Is there a right of appeal?
Those affected by a decision to issue the notice under the Water Act 1989 (Vic) may make an application for review of the decision to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).
Why did the Minister use Section 78 of the Water Act 1989 rather than the Catchment and Land Protection (CaLP) Act 1994 to direct Barwon Water to remediation of the impacts of the Barwon Downs borefield
The Water Act 1989 is a stronger approach to addressing this matter because notices under section 78 require greater accountability to water licence holders to protect the environment.
A Special Area plan under the CaLP Act does not impose any mandatory requirements and implementation of any plans, if developed, would not be able to require Barwon Water to implement remediation measures or actions.
The Water Act 1989 also offers a more immediate approach to start to address the matter.
Using notices has allowed intervention to require remediation, and for it to be managed independently of Barwon Water’s application to renew its groundwater licence.
The use of notices will also require that Barwon Water does not recommence groundwater extraction, thereby eliminating the risk that impacts are exacerbated by further pumping.
These were important considerations for the protection of the environment and to reassure the community that Barwon Water must address the impact of its groundwater extraction.
The provisions of the Water Act 1989 provide a stronger, more timely and effective response than is available under the CaLP Act.
When will the Barwon Downs licence application be submitted?
Barwon Water has delayed the submission of the Barwon Downs groundwater licence renewal application following the receipt of the s78 notice for the remediation of the Boundary Creek and Big Swamp environments.
Barwon Water will continue to keep the community and key stakeholders informed of the application submission date.
Will Barwon Water be extracting from the borefield?
In November 2017, Barwon Water wrote to Southern Rural Water to advise it would not operate the borefield during the licence renewal process except for maintenance purposes.
The s78 notice provides added assurance to legally enshrine Barwon Water’s commitment to not operate the borefield until the s78 notice is lifted.
How will Barwon Water engage with the community to remediate the Boundary Creek and Big Swamp environments (as outlined in the s78)?
Barwon Water is committed to working closely with the local community, key agencies and technical experts to remediate the Boundary Creek and Big Swamp environments.
Since May, 2018, Barwon Water has been consulting with the community and key stakeholders to help design a remediation plan including identifying what the success measures might be.
At the request of the remediation working group, three independent technical experts have been contributing to the process. These experts will collaborate with Barwon Water’s existing technical consultant and the remediation working group to refine the remediation concept and address any important information gaps before finalising the plan.