Lithgow City Council has been fined $38,000 for failing to report an incident at the Wallerawang Sewage Treatment Plant in NSW, as well as breaching conditions of its Environmental Protection Licence (EPL). The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has issued the penalty notices.
The EPA’s Manager Central West, Richard Whyte, said Council was issued with the penalty notices following an EPA investigation into a report from a member of the public about an algal bloom within Lake Wallace that occurred last summer.
The investigation found that Council exceeded its EPL limits for total nitrogen and ammonia over a period of approximately 35 days between December 2014 and January 2015 and breached its EPL operating conditions as well.
“Licence conditions are put in place to protect the environment and the community from the activities of industry. Licence holders, including local councils, have a responsibility to report all incidents involving potential or actual environmental harm in accordance with the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 to the EPA, so they can be investigated and appropriate action taken,” said Mr Whyte.
“In the case of Wallerawang, this is a recently upgraded sewage treatment plant and the EPA expects a high standard of operation to ensure water quality downstream is better protected.”
“Council has been issued with two $15,000 penalty notices for breaches of the conditions of its EPL and issued with an additional penalty notice of $8,000 for failing to report the matter immediately.”
Nutrients such as nitrogen are essential in small quantities for plant growth but in greater amounts, nitrogen and ammonia can lead to poor water quality and may contribute to the growth of algae.
Since the EPA’s investigation, Council has taken actions to rectify operations at the Wallerawang Sewage Treatment Plant and is now carrying out activities in accordance with the EPL. EPA officers continue to keep an eye on Council’s compliance with its EPL to ensure the environment is protected.
Penalty notices are just one of a number of tools the EPA can use to achieve environmental compliance, others include formal warnings, additional licence conditions, notices and directions, mandatory audits, enforceable undertakings, legally binding pollution reduction programs and prosecutions.