Coastal Water Quality

09 Apr 2013 questionsarchive
A question put forward to the Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation) regarding water quality.

9 April 2013

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (14:36): I seek leave to make an explanation before directing a question to the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation in relation to water quality.

Leave granted.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: As reported recently, the government is due to release its so-called action plan in response to the now six-year-old report—the Adelaide Coastal Waters Study—which was based on 2003 data initially, which showed concerns for the health of the coastline. In particular, every year, tonnes of nitrogen are discharged from various locations along the coast from wastewater treatment plants and stormwater, which fuels algal growth.

The Adelaide Coastal Waters Study was released under the shadow of the Clipsal 500 in March 2008 by then minister Gago. The study clearly indicated that intervention was required to recover South Australia's coastline with wastewater and stormwater discharge needing to be reduced by 50 per cent. At the time, the government made some promises, including a review of the Coast Protection Act, which we are yet to even see. In 2011, the EPA released a draft Adelaide coastal water improvement plan—it's now 2013.

While the minister has stated that strategies have already been implemented to improve water quality, fish and sea life death continue along our coastline, including fish, leafy sea dragons, dolphins and penguins. My questions to the minister are:

  1. What measurable improvement in water quality has the government achieved in the last 11 years?
  2. What funding is available for the action plan?
  3. How can we believe this program will be implemented, given that front page announcements such as the prisons rebuild and rail electrification have come to absolutely nothing?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation) (14:38): I thank the honourable member for her most important question and her congratulations on the government's speedy implementation of some of these plans.

The Hon. M. Parnell: Eleven years.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Good things take some time, Mr Parnell. It's not as if we haven't been doing anything along the way. Let me educate you.

Members interjecting:

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: They are all very keen to hear the answer. The draft Adelaide coastal water quality improvement plan was developed in 2011 in consultation with key stakeholder and targeted community groups. It contains targets and strategies for water quality improvement in line with the recommendations of the findings of the Adelaide Coastal Waters Study which commenced in 2001, I am advised, and was concluded in 2007.

The Adelaide Coastal Waters Study commenced as a result of loss of seagrass and water quality concerns evidenced by the comparison of aerial photography from different time periods in the 1990s. The study was publicly released in 2008 and included the release of 20 technical reports and a final report, which are publicly available on the EPA's website. The study's findings indicate that nutrient-rich inputs from sewerage treatment plants, industrial discharges and stormwater are the main causes for loss of seagrass along the Adelaide coastline. The draft Adelaide coastal water quality improvement plan provides a way forward for addressing the 14 recommendations of a previously completed Adelaide Coastal Waters Study.

The draft Adelaide coastal water quality improvement plan was made available for public comment via the EPA's website from 22 September through to 18 November 2011. In response, the EPA received more than 100 submissions, I am advised, which have been considered and, where appropriate, changes are being made to the plan on the basis of that advice. Specifically, the draft Adelaide coastal water quality improvement plan has been developed in consultation with the key stakeholders and targeted groups I mentioned, comprising:

·community-agreed environmental values for the use of Adelaide's coastal waters;

·targets for water quality improvement in line with the recommendations of the findings of the Adelaide Coastal Waters Study; and

·eight strategies for improving water quality for Adelaide's coastline and creating conditions that are suitable for the return of seagrass.

This work has provided us with the data to give us the understanding and the will to rehabilitate our coastal ecosystem. Targets in the plan—

An honourable member: Rubbish!

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Well, certainly there was no will under the former government, I can tell you that, no will at all—not a thing done. Targets in the plan are considered to be achievable and actionable, as evidenced in the reductions of nutrient discharges into Adelaide's coastal waters already achieved by SA Water and its commitments to further improvements.

I am aware that there has been some criticism over the time it has taken for this plan to come to fruition and that release of documents has been too slow. It is important to understand that this has not compromised actions that have been taken to implement change and improvements. Strategies have been put in place progressively over time, and South Australia can be proud of the work already done and currently being undertaken.

Examples of successes include state government investment in upgrades to wastewater treatment plants and re-use schemes, which have all enabled significant progress in reducing nutrient loads to Adelaide's coastal waters. Progress has also been made on reducing the amount of solids reaching Adelaide's coastal waters through increased stormwater re-use. All these activities are business as usual for government, a competent government getting on with the business of governing. They have been, and will continue to be—

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink interjecting:

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: I don't think so. They have been, and will continue to be, progressively implemented. To provide more detail, the Adelaide Coastal Waters Study gave the EPA and SA Water a scientifically-based target for a sustainable nitrogen discharge load. SA Water has been undertaking continuous reductions in the loads from its plants, generally incorporating them with upgrades for other purposes, such as improvements to peak capacity. SA Water has also focused on re-use as much as possible, as this provides other economic benefits to South Australia, such as the increased growth of our horticultural sector.

The summary of some of SA Water's key actions to reduce nitrogen to Adelaide's coastal waters include:

  • in 1993, the removal of sewage sludge discharges from Glenelg and Port Adelaide;
  • in 1995, the EPA-endorsed plans for SA Water to upgrade all wastewater treatment plants in Adelaide, including significant nitrogen reduction and re-use of treated effluent;

    and there it ends for that government—
  • in 2002, SA Water commissioned an upgraded Bolivar Waste Water Treatment Plant, including diversion of high-quality effluent for horticultural use near Virginia;
  • in 2004, discharge from the Port Adelaide plant was removed from the Port River and directed to a new facility at Bolivar;
  • in 2005, the Willunga Waste Water Treatment Plant was completed, where effluent from the Christies Beach plant is sent for treatment and re-use for horticulture;
  • in 2009, construction began on upgrades to the Christies Beach Waste Water Treatment Plant (the licence for this includes conditions to give action to recommendations of the Water Survey Plan); and
  • in 2010, the Glenelg to Adelaide Parklands Re-use Project was completed.

SA Water is investigating future works to ensure that they are cost effective, represent value for money, are affordable to our customers and do not cause unacceptable off-target environmental impacts—excessively increased greenhouse gas emissions, for example—and do not deliver improvements in excess of that necessary for ecological health.

SA Water is pursuing a strategy that involves optimisation of wastewater collection and treatment processes, increased recycling of wastewater, monitoring and research. The costs of the short-term actions to progress this strategy were factored into SA Water's Regulatory Business Proposal for 2013-14 and 2015-16 and are reflected in ESCOSA's draft determination.

The pricing impact for longer term actions required to achieve the reduction targets is not yet known; however, the actions will be informed through monitoring and research and will be negotiated with the EPA to focus on ensuring they are affordable. Of course, under economic regulation, any works will have to be approved by ESCOSA as part of its determination of maximum allowable revenue. In many cases they will be implemented as part of upgrades for other purposes, as we have done in the past, such as when capacity upgrades are required for a treatment plant, for example.

SA Water is committed to minimising its impact on the environment and invests prudently in measures to help achieve this. For the Adelaide coastal waters this has been demonstrated by the completion of an initial round of environmental improvement programs which I have just outlined. These have already gone some way towards achieving SA Water's reduction targets, and the cost of these is reflected in our current water and wastewater pricing.

In regard to local government, local councils have done a great deal of work to make South Australia a leader in stormwater recycling schemes. Many stormwater harvesting schemes, operated by local governments with assistance from the state through natural resources management boards and funding from the commonwealth, have been implemented.

Some of the projects currently underway include the Oaklands Park wetlands project, which includes construction of a wetland, aquifer storage and recovery and a distribution network to deliver approximately 170 megalitres per annum; SA Water projects for an aquifer storage and recovery scheme from existing wetlands at the Barker Inlet to yield 350 megalitres of stormwater and the stormwater harvesting and aquifer storage project at Adelaide Airport; the City of Charles Sturt's Waterproofing the West to harvest, recover and re-use up to 2,500 megalitres through a series of projects including Cheltenham and Old Port Road harvesting and re-use projects; and the City of Onkaparinga's projects to store, treat and re-use stormwater through the creation of an integrated system which is expected to yield 2,200 megalitres. These projects are in addition to the many schemes of stormwater capture, treatment and re-use already in operation.

Additional projects more recently approved but not yet commenced include the Eastern Adelaide Council Alliance re-use scheme. A number of councils including the City of West Torrens and the City of Unley are also making changes in the way they manage their footpaths and roads to enjoy the local benefits of incorporating water sensitive urban design features whilst improving the quality of stormwater that reaches our coast.

With the combined efforts of the state government and local councils, environmental regulators, industry and community, the Adelaide metropolitan coast has seen a reduction of total annual nutrient loads from 2,891 in 2003 to 1,792 in 2008. To put this into context, the long-term target loads for nutrients is 806 tonnes by 2030 and 600 tonnes by 2050 as set out in the Adelaide Coastal Waters Study. This combined effort has also seen Adelaide achieve a reduction in sediment loads which has dropped from 10,999 tonnes in 2003 to 7,525 tonnes in 2008. The target load by 2030 is 4,691 tonnes. It is important to understand that the long-term targets take into account population growth for the Adelaide region, meaning we are looking to reduce outputs while increasing activity levels which, as would be understood, is not a very simple task at all.

In regard to nitrogen—the honourable member asked the question—research undertaken as part of the Adelaide Coastal Waters Study shows that we need to allow light to get to our seagrass which will allow it to grow and recover.

The Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins interjecting:

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Well, it is a very important question and it deserves a considered response.

Members interjecting:

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Just another few minutes to go.

Members interjecting:


The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Let me go back. Research undertaken as part of the Adelaide Coastal Waters Study shows that we need to allow light to get to our seagrass which will allow it to grow and recover. Nitrogen blocks seagrass leaves by allowing fast growing algae to thrive, and dirty stormwater makes the sea floor too dark for the seagrass to continue to grow. The concentrations that allow these things to happen are too low to show up in any day-to-day effects except for the poor swimming quality that spoils our beaches after a heavy rainfall.

As pointed out by the Adelaide Coastal Waters Study, it will take time for the Adelaide coast to recover from the high levels of discharge in the past. Further, the study points us in the direction of total loads to the coast and points out that the concentrations of nitrogen in receiving waters are not a suitable indicator of water quality in our ecosystem. The EPA has moved to a different report card style of reporting the integrated multiple lines of evidence, including seagrass health, in a much better way. Aquatic ecosystem condition reports from many of our surface water flows have been released and the first of the marine aquatic ecosystem condition reports are due for release later this year.

The draft Adelaide coastal water quality improvement plan is a major driver for implementing changes that will result in improvements to Adelaide's marine environment. We have been taking, and will continue to take, consistent action. Costs will be met in the same way as they always are by prioritising and implementing strategies in a staged and managed way.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (14:49): Can the minister, given he mentioned the Glenelg-Adelaide pipeline, advise how many clients it has and what proportion of its full capacity is actually being utilised?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation) (14:50): It is not directly applicable to my original answer, but I will undertake to take that question on notice and bring back the response the honourable member seeks.

The Hon. M. PARNELL (14:50): My supplementary question, which does relate to the minister's original long answer, is: does the minister agree that it took the death of thousands of fish being washed up on Adelaide's coastal beaches—

The PRESIDENT: You are seeking an opinion.

The Hon. M. PARNELL: —for the government to get moving on this plan, which has been languishing in draft form since 2011, 10 years after it started?

The PRESIDENT: That is hardly a supplementary and it is seeking the minister's opinion.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation) (14:50): Mr President, the honourable member just does not get it, does he? This report has been in preparation for a number of years. You do not rattle off a report like this in a matter of days, you do not produce a report like this in a matter of five days since the fish have been dying. You need to consider detailed scientific data and bring together a number of experts. If the honourable member wants a typical political report then he can have it, but it will not do any good to our ecosystems.

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Mr Wade.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Mr President, I know I should disregard these interjections, but the draft report was released in 2011 and the full report was due to be released in May. That was always the timetable.


4 June 2013

In reply to the Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (9 April 2013).

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation): I have received this advice:

SA Water has 30 customers supplied with recycled water from the Glenelg Wastewater Treatment Plant by the Glenelg/Adelaide pipeline.

The Glenelg/Adelaide recycled water scheme located at the Glenelg wastewater treatment plant has the capacity to reuse up to 5.5 gigalitres of treated wastewater water per annum.

Recycled water from the Glenelg/Adelaide recycled water scheme is supplied to customers either via the class 'A' tank at the Glenelg wastewater treatment plant or via the Glenelg/Adelaide pipeline.

In 2011-12 the Glenelg/Adelaide recycled water scheme supplied 1.5 gigalitres of recycled water to customers including 896 megalitres through the new Glenelg/Adelaide pipeline. The Glenelg/Adelaide recycled water scheme was designed and constructed to meet future, long term demand.

In the near future the Glenelg/Adelaide recycled water scheme will supply recycled water to the new Royal Adelaide Hospital, Bowden Village and Adelaide Oval for dual reticulation use (e.g. toilet use) accounting for approximately 200 ML of additional reuse.