By Jeremy Sollars
Stanthorpe residents who have illegally connected their stormwater to the town’s sewerage system could soon find themselves smoked out into the open – and an enforcement notice to rectify at their own expense.
A massive sewage spill into Stanthorpe’s Quart Pot Creek early last week after heavy rain has been blamed on illegal stormwater connections and Southern Downs Regional Council says it will carry out smoke testing around town to find culprits responsible.
While illegal it is not uncommon for householders to connect their stormwater to the council sewer in order to save money on stormwater infrastructure, but the practice can cause or worsen sewage leaks when sewerage systems become overloaded after heaving rain.
A council spokeswoman said a contractor would be engaged shortly to perform smoke testing, which identifies illegal connections when smoke directed into the sewer system is observed coming out of household stormwater pipes and other connections.
The spokeswoman said it was “anticipated that enforcement notices will be issued directly for rectification within 28 days”.
The council is adamant that raw sewage which leaked from the town’s sewage treatment plant into Quart Pot Creek last Tuesday 14 March, was minimal, despite reports suggesting as much as 100,000 litres of effluent had entered the creek.
The council’s engineering services director Peter See said the spill was “largely due to a high number of illegal stormwater connections into the sewer, coupled with the high intensity rainfall”.
“The majority of the overflow into the creek was stormwater,” Mr See said.
“There would only have been a small amount of raw water released, which would have been heavily diluted with the substantial rainfalls.
“The council notified the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection in accordance with the relevant notification requirements, and signage was erected.
“As part of the notification process, water sample testing is to be undertaken within 24 hours of the spill, the following day and again in seven days following the initial incident.
“The council is currently awaiting the result of the initial sample.”
Last week’s incident and others in Stanthorpe in recent months are being investigated by the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP)
The council was fined $12,190 by EHP after an effluent spill into Quart Pot Creek in July last year, and EHP has confirmed it is still investigating other similar incidents which have occurred since then.
Prior to this week’s spill, Quart Pot Creek was most recently contaminated in early February when a contractor working for the Stanthorpe River Trust accidentally severed a sewer line in the creek with an excavator.
The council stepped in on that occasion and repaired the sewer line.
An EHP spokesman told the Free Times last Thursday 16 March, that they could not comment on current investigations but confirmed several were in progress.
Members of the public are encouraged to report suspected pollution incidents, to the EHP Pollution Hotline on 1300 130 372.