Sydney Water to pay over $1.2 million after sewage damages homes


Sydney Water must pay more than $1.2 million in restoration and prevention costs after it discharged a total of more than half a million litres of untreated sewage in two separate incidents.

The first discharge damaged homes and closed beaches at Shellharbour while the second impacted the environment at Grasmere in Sydney’s south west.

The $1.2m costs are the result of two enforceable undertakings with the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA), each worth $600,000.

The largest overflow incident occurred in July 2020 when a sewage pipe, known as a rising main, failed releasing approximately 430,000 litres of untreated sewage. This flooded Darley St, Shellharbour, flowing into residents’ properties and causing damage.

The overflow also spilled onto nearby beaches, forcing the temporary closure of Shellharbour Beach North and South and the Beverley Whitfield Ocean Pool, which had to be drained after sewage entered the pool.

Earlier that same year, in January and February 2020, a single Sydney Water rising main in Sydney’s southwest failed on seven occasions, discharging an estimated total of 88,000 litres of untreated sewage into a gully, a pond and a quarry dam in Grasmere and Glenmore.

EPA Director Regulatory Operations Jacinta Hanemann said that Sydney Water’s environmental performance was not good enough.

“We expect better from Sydney Water and know that the community feels the same way. Nobody wants sewage flooding their street or impacting the environment,” Ms Hanemann said.

“Untreated sewage poses risks to human health and can have impacts on our ecosystems.”

The enforceable undertakings require Sydney Water to fund projects to enhance or restore the environment, including:

  • $500,000 to Shellharbour Council for beach dune restoration and protection at Shellharbour Beach. Council will also contribute an additional $210,000 toward this project.
  • $350,000 to fund a research project into the design and development of a new approach for detecting and preventing leaks in sewage rising mains. Sydney Water will contribute $120,000 of additional voluntary funding to this project.
  • $200,000 to Camden Council toward a water quality management project for Narellan Creek.
  • $150,000 to Wollondilly Council for weed control, bush regeneration works, and to enable an audit of private on-site sewage management systems.
  • Sydney Water has also agreed to pay the EPA’s legal and investigative costs.

“These undertakings will result in more than $1.5 million being invested in the environment. They also represent significant practical steps to restorative justice by rehabilitating and enhancing the local environment where the incidents occurred.”

Through an enforceable undertaking, which are enforceable by the Land and Environment Court, the EPA may secure outcomes such as environmental restoration measures or contributions to environmental projects.

They are one of the tools the EPA uses to achieve the best environmental or human health outcomes. Find out more about our regulatory approaches here.

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