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The Future

Being close to Melbourne, the East Coast is under considerable environmental pressure. Both the ocean beaches and Western Port Bay face different threats.

The Ocean Beaches

Major Issues  - Sewage Outfall

From the  AGE (30/11/98)

Outfall fallout: sewage row prompts protest


The banners were angry at Gunnamatta beach yesterday. ``Stop the plop.'' ``Less poo, more fish.'' ``Why should we surf in s---?''

Several hundred locals, environmentalists and surfers marched to the outfall where, every day, hundreds of millions of litres of Melbourne's treated sewage are pumped into the ocean.

Middle-aged surfers recalled the days, before the outfall was built in 1975, when the water was clear as glass, boiling with fish and home to forests of kelp.

A protest organiser, Mr Charley Daniel, said a recent CSIRO study, obtained by protesters before its release, had found the reef had lost half of its seaweed species and that fish in the area contained toxicants. The effluent was found to kill fish larvae, he said.

He said locals also were shocked to find the beach was excluded from environmental standards requirements of the Environment Protection Act.

``It's high time Melbourne Water saw ocean outfalls as an unacceptable and outdated way of disposing waste,'' he said.

But Melbourne Water, which has acknowledged some environmental impact, denied it was exempt from environmental controls.

The manager of the Eastern Treatment Plant, Mr Tony Antoniou, said the effluent met strict environmental provisions under its licence conditions.

Mr Daniel called on Melbourne Water to stop using the outfall within three years and stop allowing companies to dump industrial waste in the sewage system.

Mr Antoniou, said the outfall and plant had to meet about 2000 parameters under its licence. For example, there could not be more than 30 milligrams of ``suspended solids'' per litre of effluent released. ``If you put it in a glass, you would think it was clear water.''

Mr Antoniou said the sewage was treated to secondary standard before release. That meant it was put through screens and through a biological process to remove suspended solids.

The executive director of the Environment Protection Authority, Mr Robert Joy, said Government policy recognised adding fresh water to salt water had environmental consequences.

For that reason, there were zones around the outfall that did not have to meet the same level of standards as the rest of the ocean, he said.

These ``mixing zones'' were not exempt from standards, he said, but were recognised as ``sacrifice zones'' where there was some environmental degradation allowed and other standards applied, but the water had to be safe for swimming and fishing.

The main villains are Melbourne Water who discharge millions of litres of effluent into the surf at Gunnamatta (see picture left)

Their web site is: You can ring the Melbourne Water Eastern Treatment Plant on 0397751700 and you can read their defence of their water quality monitoring here







Here's a glossary of terms from their web site so you can speak their language.



toxicants: poisonous pollutants such as heavy metals and pesticides

plume: a detectable outflow into a receiving water body

nutrients: substances required for the growth of plants, (like fertilisers). Excessive nutrients can become pollutants by overloading natural systems

polychaete worm: a segmented marine worm

alga(e): non-flowering aquatic plants

dioxins, furans: byproducts of the manufacturing process of herbicides and disinfectants. They are also present in car exhaust. Dioxins and furans have never been detected in effluent but are a common industrial pollutant

phthalate ester: a substance included in plastic to make it flexible. Phthalate esters are often found in environmental monitoring of land, sea or air

toluene: a solvent which can be found in effluent when paint thinners or industrial solvents are discharged to the sewage system

ammonia (ammonium): a nutrient made up nitrogen and hydrogen. In small quantities it stimulates algal growth, but when concentrated can act as a disinfectant

phosphate: a nutrient. The single largest cause of phosphate is car exhaust

dispersion: the mixing of effluent with sea water as it moves away from the outfall

bioaccumulation: the concentration of substances (particularly toxicants) in the tissue of plants and animals

Melbourne Water haven't yet realised that it is no longer appropriate to pump the treated waste from about 40% of Melbourne's sewage into the Coastal National Park. They say this on their web site:

Improving water quality at Boags Rocks

Melbourne Water has announced a plan to benefit the marine environment at Boags Rocks near Cape Schanck on the Mornington Peninsula.

The plan is in response to the findings of a scientific study by the CSIRO on the environmental impact of effluent discharged from the Eastern Treatment Plant effluent pipeline.

The two-year study was commissioned by Melbourne Water in accordance with its Environment Protection Authority licence. Melbourne Water Managing Director

Brian Bayley said the plan had three elements, to: Redress the negative impacts on the ecology of the rock shelves caused by ammonia and the freshwater nature of the effluent. Reduce the volume of effluent discharged. Undertake a public education program and further monitor effluent at Gunnamatta Beach.

EPA Chairman Dr Brian Robinson welcomed the study report and the Melbourne Water response as providing a solid basis for assessing the options for upgrading the system through the EPA works approvals system.

In particular he welcomed the proposal to promote substantial recycling of treated effluent and the emphasis on improvements in the local environment around the pipeline. Mr Bayley said the plan was developed by Melbourne Water and followed careful consideration of the CSIRO findings and feedback obtained during extensive community consultation program conducted throughout the study.

"The plan will involve a number of further studies and a detailed Works Approval application to EPA by the beginning of October 2001, he said.

Key studies will include a trial of ammonia reduction technology at the plant to enable treated effluent to comply with State Environment Protection Policy (Waters of Victoria) through the adoption of best practice. The trial will be for a minimum of six months over the critical winter period. An interim report will be sent to the EPA by June 2001 with a final report by the end of September 2001.

A water recycling strategy will be developed to achieve a reduction of 20 per cent to 30 per cent in effluent discharged, based on a feasibility study to establish a significant recycling scheme. A community education program for recreational beach users and further monitoring at Gunnamatta Beach are among other initiatives. Mr Bayley said that Melbourne Water appreciated the participation by the various community, surfing and environmental groups in the study. "We will continue to keep the community informed and to seek comment and feedback to ensure that the project is successful, he said. Dr Robinson said the EPA welcomed the opportunity to work in partnership with Melbourne Water on this important environmental improvement project.


What is the Environment Protection Authority doing about it? Nothing. In fact, as the extract above indicates, for years the E.P.A. have actively cooperated with Melbourne Water, excluding Melbourne Water from strict environmental control and including it in what's known as a 'sacrifice zone'. You can read their mealy-mouthed descriptions of their role at their site here, but don't expect them to to actually protect the environment.

In the last couple of years a single issue group CleanOcean has taken up the challenge of addressing this issue, getting some strong publicity in the process. They seem to have been more successful and more focussed than the Surfrider Foundation, who were doing some good things before then. Their excellent website has a list of MPs to contact and they have successfully gained local publicity. They say:

Each day, an average of 370 million litres of effluent is discharged at Gunnamatta.

This is the equivalent of 12 333 petrol tankers (volume 30 000 litres) If these tankers were placed end to end they would total a length of 200km. 370 million milk cartons placed end to end would each day circle the equator of the earth twice. Over ten days flow, the number of milk cartons placed end to end would stretch to the moon and back from earth. 880 million litres per day of sewage produced in Melbourne 42% is treated at Eastern Treatment Plant: 370 million litres per day 8% of this flow is Trade Waste: 29 million litres or 29 thousand tonnes is discharged to Gunnamatta 4% is treated at retail water company treatment plants: 35 million litres per day 54% is treated at Western Treatment Plant: 500 million litres per day is discharged to Port Phillip Bay

The Mornington Mail was prominent in the 2001 campaign agains the outfall. You can read a strong EDITORIAL and other pieces against the outfall HERE. They wrote pieces called:

The View from the Sea Floor

The Pipe: A Case for Change

Industrial waste Concerns

This is what the Surfrider Foundation say about this issue:

The Issues Despite much of the ocean beaches of the Peninsula being part of a national park, the ocean is still being polluted by an ocean outfall which dumps over onethird of Melbourne's sewerage and wastewater out at Boags rocks near Gunnamatta. There is even a surfbreak near-by unaffectionaly known as 'Poo Pipes'. Signs errected on the beaches in the vicinity warn surfers and swimmers that there is effluent being discharged. This is inside a national park that charges people to use the beaches. People pay to swim in polluted water. One Melbourne Water official once offered to drink the effluent because he was so confident that its secondary treatment system posed no threat to surfers. Why the signs then ? No insurance ?

In 1993 local surfers protested against the continued use of their beaches as a dumping ground for Melbourn'e sewerage. This resulted in an increased amount of effluent being additionally treated and used for irrigation. This unfortunately does not go anywhere near solving the problem because the outfall services the fastest growing urban area in Melbourne. As a result effluent volumes are going to rise. The situation at Boags Rocks highlights that ocean outfalls do not provide long term solutions to sewerage disposal and that waterboards and governments must begin investing in re-use technology so that there is some infrastructure inplace that will meet the needs of future generations.

The Surfrider Foundation paper on ocean outfalls written by John Foss also says this:

For the last seven years the Surfrider Foundation has called for the closing of all ocean outfalls around Australia. The Surfrider Foundation feels that treating sewage on land is the only safe way to treat one of Australia's greatest pollution threats.

Ocean Outfalls - sewers in the surf Ocean outfalls are a major source of ocean pollution. There are currently 141 public sewage outfalls discharging human effluent and industrial waste into the ocean around Australia.

The 141 outfalls have a combined discharge exceeding three billion litres per day. The largest ocean outfalls are in Sydney (Malabar Outfall - 430 million litres per day/North Head - Manly - 280 million litres per day/Bondi - 130 million litres per day) and Melbourne (Gunnamatta - 250 million litres per day).

Each year around 10,000 tonnes of phosphorus and 100,000 tonnes of nitrogen are discharged through sewage, much of which finds its way into the marine environment. Elevated nutrient levels may cause eutrophication, the excessive growth of algae, which depletes oxygen levels in the water and may suffocate marine organisms.

Heavy metals in industrial waste can work their way through the food chain and end up in much of the seafood we eat. A number of fisherman on coastal towns have become after catching fish near ocean outfalls.

Australia is a desert continent. The Surfrider Foundation believes that the only way to treat sewage is to pump it onto the land and treat it through wetlands or high tech tertiary systems. The effluent can then be used for farming/irrigation/ on pine plantations,etc.

Pumping billions of litres of effluent into the ocean each day isn't helping anyone.

The ABC reported it this way:

Ocean outfalls are among the main polluters of the Australian coastal and marine environment.

Pumping raw sewage out to sea has obvious implications - anything that is flushed down a toilet, given the right tidal conditions, could end up littering the beach.

In Victoria, there are 13 ocean outfall pipes dumping billions of litres of wastewater into the bay and ocean every day.

Just one of these pipes, at Gunnamatta beach on Mornington Peninsula, has an outpour of 400 million litres a day.

Many of them, like the one at Gunnamatta beach, are situated near high-density tourist beaches.

There are other outfall pipes at Phillip Island, Lorne, Werribee, Black Rock, Anglesea, Apollo Bay and Warrnambool.

Of course, human waste has to be piped somewhere, but there is hope yet for our oceans. Advances in the treatment of sewage water, particularly by the CSIRO, has helped clean up, or find uses, for the effluent.

The Surfriders Foundation was established in Victoria as a watchdog for Australian coastal waters.

Its director, Bill Pemberton, says Victoria is facing huge problems if something isn't done to arrest the flow of wastewater into the sea.

Mr Pemberton says the technology exists to recycle waste water, but it's a matter of the overwhelming volume of outfall.

"We're finding the water boards aren't really equipped to deal with re-use options, they're very much... built and run to supply fresh water, and when... dealing with waste water they just try and pipe it out wherever they can and dump it," Mr Pemberton said.

He says even though water is being treated, it's still creating problems.

"It's been very poor in a number of places. Lorne still has raw sewerage at the moment, but it's been upgraded to secondary treatment," he says.

"Secondary treatment is theoretically good, however if you spend a number of hours in the water - like surfers generally do - around areas with ocean outfalls, there's a tendency to have a higher increase of infections of cuts and mucous linings of the nose, throat and eyes," Mr Pemberton said.

All sorts of ailments can be picked up by water-users swimming in areas near ocean outfalls which pump raw sewage into the ocean, including hepatitis A.

This is how TRACKS saw the issue in October 1999:

sick.jpg (33661 bytes)


Western Port Bay

Major Issues - Marine Pollution, Loss of seagrass

Western Port Bay faces other threats. Some are outlined below in the article from 'The Age' newspaper. The other major one is the threat of oil spillage. Depite it's delicate ecosystem and crucial role in birdlife and in the marine environment, Western Port Bay was dubbed 'the Ruhr of Victoria' and developed as a heavy industrial port specialising in steel, oil and petrol, chemical products.

Western Port Bay has some important environmental significance. Read the Environment Australia report on Western Port Bay for a full account of the significance of this place.



Western Port's `dirty' rating



Western Port Bay is one of Australia's top 10 hot spots for marine pollution, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature's first report card on the state of the nation's coastal environment.

The report, You're swimming in it, found that Western Port had been dramatically altered by sediment, contaminants, agricultural runoff, industry discharges and dredging.

``This has resulted in the loss of the seagrass beds and the degradation of a number of marine biological communities,'' the report says. Seagrass beds are essential in the marine food chain and provide havens for young fish.

All states mostly rated poor to fair in their care for the sea environment within the key categories of outfalls and industrial discharges; litter; accidents and shipping; and urban and agricultural runoff.

A WWF spokesman, Mr Michael Rae, said Australia's marine environment was generally clean but that was more thanks to the good luck of a big country with a small population than good management.

``But we are seeing evidence of stress in those areas with either a high population or that have a high degree of agricultural activity,'' he said.

Sydney's ocean sewage outfalls, which discharge more than five billion litres a day through three pipes, topped the list of pollution hot spots. The report says the sewage receives a level of treatment that would be unacceptable in other states.

``If we compare Melbourne and Sydney, in Melbourne we have sewage treatment plants and Sydney just has a longer pipe,'' said Mr Rae.

``In Sydney, the measure of pollution was clean water for swimming and there is no doubt that the beaches have been cleaned up. But at the pipe outfall, the malady lingers on.''

Victoria received a good rating on its monitoring of sewage discharge and studies of the environmental impact around outfalls. But it only rated fair when the extent and impact of treated sewage pollution was assessed.

``Melbourne's discharge of secondary treated sewage at Boags Rock (near Gunnamatta) is affecting local marine communities and is close to popular beaches,'' the report said.

Victoria's only poor rating was for the extent and impact of large amounts of sediments washed from rivers into Port Phillip and Western Port bays; sediment runoff and poor water quality was blamed for most of the decline in seagrass beds.

The report, which WWF plans to review annually, raised concerns about the threat to the Great Barrier Reef from the runoff of agricultural sediments and fertilisers.

More than 22 million tonnes a year is washed into the ocean, endangering corals and other sensitive marine life.

Acid soil seepage, particularly in New South Wales, Tasmania and Western Australia, was blamed for polluting river estuaries, destroying seagrass beds and killing fish.

The report called for further research and monitoring to tackle marine pollution.


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