A PLAN to pump waste water from a Catherine Hill Bay residential development into a beachside lagoon poses "unacceptable risks" and should not be approved, says the NSW Environment Protection Authority.
The state’s Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal is considering Catherine Hill Bay Water Utility’s application to vary its network operator’s licence for the ‘Beaches’ development on the South Wallarah Peninsula.
If approved, excess recycled water from the on-site effluent treatment process would be discharged via an off-site watercourse that runs into a lagoon on Catherine Hill Bay beach.
More than 190 submissions – made public earlier this week – were lodged to IPART before the May 9 closure, with the EPA, Lake Macquarie City Council and NSW Health among those to make submissions.
Upon review, IPART will provide a recommendation to the NSW Energy and Utilities Minister on whether the proposal should proceed.
It comes as Catherine Hill Bay Boardriders Club plans for a protest at the beachside lagoon on Sunday at 10am.
At the forefront of concerns are environmental health risks, outlined in submissions from the EPA and Lake Macquarie City Council, who both recommended the project not go ahead.
However, NSW Heath indicated in their submission the proposed changes would not present a risk to public health if treatment processes remained as planned.
Catherine Hill Bay Water Utility Pty Ltd (CHBWU), who run a sewage treatment plant and sewage reticulation network servicing the ‘Beaches’ subdivision, said their recycled water is “highly treated using a multi-stage process with high-tech filters so fine that an individual virus cannot pass”. The utility says it differs from treated effluent, which it says is “poorly-treated unfiltered water from traditional sewage plants and contains a high number of pathogens, bacteria and viruses.”
Excess recycled water is currently pumped onto land which is slated for stages six and seven of the Rose Group development.
It means the company needed to find a new place for the excess water.
The utility wants to discharge the excess water into a lagoon which opens to the ocean on Catherine Hill Bay beach.
“The Catherine Hill Bay scheme only produces high-quality recycled Water which the Department of Health agrees poses ‘no health risk’,” a CHBWU spokesperson said on Friday. “The recycled water at Catherine Hill Bay is already used by residents to water their vegetable gardens and wash their clothes, among other things.”
However, the EPA’s submission states the proposal poses “unacceptable risks at this point in time” with the applicant having “not followed an appropriate assessment pathway to properly assess and address” certain risks. Listed as an environmental risk, the applicant had “not adequately characterised the discharges or assessed the potential risks of these discharges” and “not provided sufficient information on the proposed treatment systems, discharge management and mitigation measures required to address any potential risks”.
The EPA argued there could be a public health risk but admitted NSW Health was the determining authority.
“Treated sewage and effluent has the potential to transmit pathogens that may impact on the values and users of the creek leading to the intermittently open and closed ‘un-named’ lagoon (ICOL), the ICOL itself and Middle Camp Beach at Catherine Hill Bay,” the EPA said.
The EPA recommended that the variation not be approved until a full and proper assessment is undertaken. It was unable to issue an environment protection licence until outlined concerns had been addressed.
It was also critical of the applicant’s failure to consult the community.
Lake Macquarie City council said in their submission the “proposal has probable significant adverse impacts upon ecological, scientific, cultural and aesthetic values” and “if the proposal was in the form of a development application… development consent would not be granted on this basis”.
In its conclusion, council said the proposal could “not be supported”, stating the “proposal has probable significant environmental impacts to water quality, threatened species, endangered ecological communities and coastal processes” and that such concerns were “heightened by the sensitivity of the area, being the popular swimming beach and sensitive coastal environmental location.”
The council also apposed the company’s previous plan to put the excess water on the vacant land reserved future development. Council’s 2018 submission argued that the original application, which went before IPART in 2014-15, didn’t outline a plan for waste water once stages six and seven were developed.
Catherine Hill Bay Boardriders Club president Mick McCall, who grew up in the village but now lives at nearby Nords Wharf, said the proposal presents a risk to beachgoers.
From the information currently available the proposal has probable significant impacts to the health, safety and amenity of the public...Lake Macquarie City Council
“The potential is for that creek when in heavy rain and they’re trying to put 160,000 litres of water a day into that area, which is then going to make the creek run out into the south-end of Catherine Hill Bay where people swim, fish and surf.
“No one in there right mind wants that.”
Mr McCall, president of the CHBBC since 1979, said the subdivision should have been connected to a permanent sewage system.
“Originally, the whole deal was that it was going to be connected into the sewage system. We didn’t care if it was going to be connected to Wyong sewer system or Lake Macquarie’s sewerage, as long it was connected.
“That looks like they are short-cutting that now and are not going to do that, which should not be allowed.
“The area for future development over the next many decades probably needs a sewer anyway, you shouldn’t be short-cutting it now.”
Catherine Hill Bay Progress Association president, Sue Whyte, who will take part in the Sunday protest, said: “This is really affecting the community, Beaches [estate residents] as well.”
A recommendation will be made by IPART to NSW Energy and Utilities Minister, Don Harwin, whether to grant a variation to the CHBWU operator’s licence.