Just over two decades the Yarrowee River that rises in Ballarat was little more than an urban drain, receiving stormwater from the town and treated effluent from the Southern Ballarat Water Treatment Plant. Thanks to funding from the State government and many hours of work by volunteers and the local Council, a transformation took place. Litter traps were placed at the storm water discharge points, revegetation works were undertaken, banks were stabilised and walking paths made. It became a place much loved and cared for by the community.
Ballarat is not immune from development and in February 2022, local residents reported episodes of pollution in the Yarrowee River to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The pollution was attributed to a housing development, covering 18-hectares in Brown Hill. In late 2021, vegetation and topsoil were removed from land alongside the Yarrowee River. After rain events, large amounts of sediment entered the river causing increased turbidity leading to reduced available oxygen and sunlight for plants and animals in the river. The decline in water quality had potential long-term implications for the biodiversity of the river.
The EPA has engaged with the developers on numerous occasions to ensure the river is protected and restored. Ultimately the EPA took the developer to the Supreme Court using the provisions of the General Environmental Duty provisions in the Environment Protection Act 2017 to ensure that their orders were complied with. They have also required the developer to remove and dispose of the sediment from the river via the Vista Remediation Plan. This would include measures to reduce the risk of sediment flowing downstream, damaging more of the river, during the remediation.
A local resident who posted his concerns on Facebook was threatened with legal action, as the company suggested the comments were defamatory. The resident has apologised but did incur significant costs. It is not clear if more legal action will follow. In the meantime, a GoFundMe account has been set up to defray his costs. This can be accessed at https://gofund.me/d9ce4756 . So far, the funds raised amount to $2365 and $3500 is the target.
It is something we should all be alert to and support like-minded people who support our aim of making our rivers healthy, especially those of the Barwon. It is all too common for developers to push the boundaries. We now have legislation to protect the environment as well as the landscape. Hopefully the situation in the Yarrowee will improve and residents can enjoy their river once again without the threat of ongoing pollution.
Image: The sludge-filled water of the Yarrowee River (courtesy of ABC Article – Aug 2022) – photo supplied to ABC by Anthony Murphy