Wyndham sewage drives infrastructure demands

Sewage disposal issues leave business owners "hamstrung" in Western Australia's northernmost town. Wyndham residents need sewage upgrades, and new developments need on-site treatment plants. The local shire has been lobbying the government for a solution.

Sewage disposal issues leave business owners “hamstrung” in Western Australia’s northernmost town. Wyndham residents need sewage upgrades, and new developments need on-site treatment plants. The local shire has been lobbying the government for a solution.

Wyndham residents have taken aim at the state government’s “double-standards” on how effluent is dealt with at their port and town sites.

Wastewater and effluent are treated in septic tanks before it flows into the crocodile-infested Cambridge Gulf.

Wyndham Town Hotel part-owner Paul Cavanagh said he wanted to redevelop the much-loved venue so it could be reopened to the public.

But the pub is located in the port. It means he needs to spend tens of thousands of dollars on an on-site sewage treatment plant. It is the only way he can ensure the venue meets health and environmental guidelines.

Mr Cavanagh said the requirement had forced him to put his redevelopment plans on hold.

Water Corporation says it’s not their responsibility [to treat the water]. At the moment, we’re hamstrung. I’ve been arguing for 20 years, but no one seems to want to do anything about it.”

Wyndham residents frustrated

Mr Cavanagh said if the pub were located in the town site, 3 kilometres from the port, he would not need a sewage-treatment system.

Sewage is treated in collection ponds before being pumped onto mudflats. It forms a stagnant algae-covered swamp near the King River, about a kilometre from houses.

A Water Corporation spokesperson said diluted wastewater from the town site was disposed of onto the mudflats. That follows water and environmental regulations.

Mr Cavanagh commissioned a soil water consultant to conduct a study in 2018 which examined the difference between the effluent discharged from the port and onto the mudflats near the town.

“There is no difference between the primary treated effluent from the port and town. If the town’s primary effluent continues to be discharged onto the mud flats, then there is no reason to stop primary effluent from the port from being discharged similarly,” the report said.

Wyndham East Kimberley Shire deputy president Tony Chafer said the council was lobbying the state government for a solution.

He said residents and business owners in the port deserved better infrastructure.

“When people were applying to get rid of their effluent the way they’ve always done it, those applications were knocked back because they said it’s an unsafe way to do it,” he said.

“Yet the same thing is occurring down the road in Wyndham townsite.”

Wyndham needs support of Water Corporation

He said residents were surprised and upset there were “such double standards”.

“It makes properties very difficult to develop,” he said.

Mr Cavanagh said Water Corporation, which the Western Australian government owns, should build a treatment pond in the port.

In the meantime, he said new businesses should be allowed to dispose of wastewater in the gulf, using the historic pipe system.

“The [tides in the] gulf will disperse millions of cubic metres of water in and out every day,” he said.

He said whatever was pumped there would “be gone in seconds”.

“And for the number of people who live in the port … it’s just a few businesses who can’t do anything with their land,” he said.

A Water Corporation spokesperson said on-site septic systems were common in many areas in Western Australia. They are not connected to a reticulated wastewater scheme.

The spokesperson said any request for reticulated wastewater works in the area must be investigated. They need to understand any environmental risks should industrial contaminants from business enter wastewater.

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