Environmentally Relevant Activity (ERA) 63 in the Environmental Protection Regulations (EP Regs 2008) includes the operation of large sewage pumping stations. The ERA applies to stations with a design capacity exceeding 40kL per hour (11L/s) unless the pump is part of a sewage treatment plant. This requirement was added to the Regulations in 2008 and commenced in early 2009 requiring Development Approvals (DA) and registration certificates for these pumping stations.
The initial guidelines for meeting the requirements of this ERA were criticised by the industry in terms of their practicality and a long negotiation process between the industry and the Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM) commenced in 2011 (see e.g. e-Flash #132 (September 2011), e-Flash #137 (October 2011) and e Flash #150 (December 2011)). An industry expert group was formed and several rounds of consultation have been undertaken to develop final drafts of three documents that provide practical and achievable guidance for service providers in meeting their General Environmental Duty and complying with ERA 63(3).
qldwater thanks the numerous water managers from around the state who contributed to these discussions. While meeting the guidelines will still require significant work from most service providers across the state, the negotiated outcome is far more practicable whilst still mitigating sewage overflows and potential environmental harm. Some of the key outcomes of the consultation process are summarised below.
ERA 63(3) Guidelines
The new Guidelines apply conditions to large (>40 kL/hr) pumping stations and also provide guidance for meeting the GED for other pumping stations regardless of size or age. A significant industry concern was about the cost of retrofitting improvements to existing pumping stations to meet new standard conditions. The Department has indicated that full retrofitting is not a necessary requirement but a continual risk-based improvement process (e.g. during upgrades to existing pumping stations) should take the guidelines into account. This issue has been clarified in the documents and a threshold introduced ($150,000 indexed with a 3% annual increase to account for inflation) before significant modifications are to be considered.
Specific requirements for holding capacity, alarm systems and response processes have been replaced with general guidance and requirements that service providers manage potential overflows using risk-based management to meet the General Environmental Duty. This approach allows greater flexibility and innovation in the way that conditions are met. This aligns well with the General Environmental Duty but also means that there is an increased onus on sewerage scheme managers to be able to demonstrate they have appropriately identified and managed potential risks.
Consequently, the new approach in the Guidelines includes a more stringent focus on planning, monitoring, notifications and reporting for overflows. However, many of the requirements are now limited to ‘reportable’ overflows rather than all spills (including e.g. minor emergency wet weather overflows).
qldwater is continuing to work with the industry to raise awareness of these changes and to develop planning templates and case studies to assist small and medium service providers in meeting their requirements. A copy of the final draft guidelines can be downloaded (after logging in at www.qldwater.com.au/sewage-pumping-stations). A final version will be available on the DERM website by the end of the month.
Code of Environmental Compliance (log in to download at www.qldwater.com.au/sewage-pumping-stations)
The Department has proposed that in future, ERA 63(3) be regulated under a Code of Environmental Compliance (CoEC). This means that large (> 40 kL/hr ) pumping stations would become self-assessable and would not require a Development Approval if all standard conditions are met. The draft Code was developed with industry input and has the same conditions as the final guidelines. It will be raised for Ministerial approval later in 2012.
It is important to note that if the CoEC is adopted, all large pumping stations will become subject to its standard conditions. That is, regardless of age or whether a pumping station has an existing DA or not, it will need to meet the standard conditions within one year of the CoEC coming into effect.
Given there are estimated to be more than 1000 large (> 40 kL/hr) pumping stations across the State it was important that the industry was confident that the new standard conditions were achievable for both new and existing stations for dry weather and emergency wet-weather overflows. Extensive consultation was undertaken between the industry and the Department on this issue and the resulting document represents a workable compromise with the possibility for review when experience has been built with the new requirements.
A third document was also developed as part of the consultation process to deal with notification requirements for overflows. This can also be downloaded at www.qldwater.com.au/sewage-pumping-stations after logging in.
For further information and FAQs please see http://www.qldwater.com.au/sewage-pumping-stations