While the admission by Sydney Water that odours at North Head are of such significance that it has allocated $4 million over 4 years to solve the problem (Sun-Herald 10/5/15) is welcomed, ongoing community concerns about actual the treatment process continue.
Toxic Mercury Pollution
Sydney Water has correctly pointed out that the level of Mercury falls within the limits set by the EPA
but what is not stated is that the EPA has not reduced the North Head Sewage Treatment
Plant licence for Mercury discharged to coastal waters since it was established in 1992. This
is a matter of great concern to the Manly community.
In relation to upgrading North Head Sewage Treatment Plant, Project North Head Upgrade 2003 documents costed all items and it is acknowledged that major funding was needed.
However the community is concerned that:
1. The 1991 planned upgrade to the ocean outfall plants did not proceed.
2. The 2002 consultation process with the Manly community undertaken by Sydney
Water identified Preferred Option upgrade to full primary with 65% solids capture
and secondary treatment – all within plant boundaries. However, EPA said
upgrading of ocean outfall plants was not a priority and the Independent Pricing and
Regulatory Tribunal believed ‘that Sydney Water has not provided sufficient
justification’ for the $6M they requested. Preferred Option did no proceed.
3. As Sydney Water fails to see or acknowledge that any improvement in the treatment
process is necessary that this current licence review will not lead to any improvements as well.
4. The suggestion that upgrading the North Head WWTP to secondary and tertiary treatment
would necessarily result in a footprint which would reduce the size of the National Park land
is unacceptable – put the plant underground, decentralise/interception with treatment along
the Northern Suburbs Ocean Outfall System that flows to North Head Sewage Treatment
5. Regarding biosolids truck numbers Sydney Water has repeatedly told the Manly community the
treatment at the plant dictates the number of biosolids trucks and to minimise truck
movements the treatment option would be anaerobic digestion followed by heat drying.
Sydney Water states that 30% of solids are removed from the influent – that means 70% of solids
are discharged to the ocean which is not acceptable. This is simply not appropriate to Sydney’s image
as a clean city in the 21 century that we continue to dump our sewage in the ocean.
It is worth noting that in a print article about the North Head Sewage Treatment Plant
Mercury pollution, the Associate Professor at the School of Civil and Environmental
Engineering UNSW, Stuart Khan was quoted as saying “the real solution though would
be to apply more advanced treatment processes, which are commonly employed at
sewage treatment plants around the world. In the US, the EPA has banned the
discharge of primary Sewage to the ocean”.
It is time to start planning to implement the ‘ultimate aim’ of Section 27(1) of the Sydney
Water Act 1994, which states, inter alia :
‘the corporation is to adopt as an ultimate aim the prevention of all dry weather discharges of sewage to waters, including from ocean outfalls, except to the extent that this is necessary to safeguard public health or prevent environmental degradation, or both.’
(Our thanks to Beverley Trevenen who assisted providing the facts for this article)
Candy Bingham, Deputy Mayor, Northern Beaches Council. Background in marketing, public relations & community engagement. Author of five business books. Former Lady Mayoress of Sydney. Aka Candy Tymson.