The Land and Environment Court has convicted Sydney Water Corporation of three offences over two sewage overflow incidents that occurred in 2017, following prosecution by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA).
A total penalty of $269,500 was imposed. Sydney Water was also ordered to pay the EPA’s legal and investigation costs and publish details of the convictions in various newspapers, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The first sewage overflow incident occured in May to June 2017 and involved an uncontrolled release of between 151 and 334 million litres of untreated sewage from an outlet into Mill Stream, on the southern side of General Holmes Drive in Botany, during scheduled maintenance works.
The second sewage overflow incident, in mid June 2017, involved an overflow of approximately 173 million litres of untreated sewage from the same outlet into Mill Stream.
Acting EPA Chief Executive Officer Mark Gifford said the EPA charged Sydney Water with two offences of water pollution and one offence of contravening its environment protection licence by failing to carry out sewage treatment in a competent manner. Sydney Water pleaded guilty to each charge.
In sentencing Sydney Water, the Court noted the sewage reached the waters of Botany Bay at Foreshore Beach and created a potential risk to the health of anyone exposed to the water at Foreshore Beach. The sewage also polluted the aquatic environment at Foreshore Beach in Botany Bay and degraded the water quality.
“These incidents of uncontrolled, raw sewage overflows were significant and could have been harmful to swimmers in Botany Bay. We welcome the Court’s acknowledgement of this, issuing a high penalty in sentencing,” Mr Gifford said.
Sydney Water conceded there was a foreseeable risk that was not appropriately considered and that a competent operator would have carried out further investigation regarding sewage flows and peak usage times before commencing the maintenance works.
The Court ordered Sydney Water to pay $150,000 to Bayside Council’s Bushland Restoration and Community Access Improvement Project for Sir Josephs Banks Park and $119,500 to the Environmental Trust.
The judgement and penalty provide an important reminder to industry to fully investigate foreseeable risks and take necessary precautions to protect the environment before carrying out maintenance activities.
The EPA investigates all reports of potential pollution and encourages anyone with a concern, or knowledge of pollution in their local area, to contact the 24-hour Environment Line on 131 555.