Warwick's ageing sewer network

LEAKS, blockages and dodgy manhole covers to name but a few – costly repairs to Warwick’s ageing sewer network have been an almost daily occurrence for nearly two years, the Daily News can reveal.

Documents obtained under Right To Information show more than 500 individual sewerage repair or replacement jobs have been carried out by Southern Downs Regional Council (SDRC) crews between July 2008 and February this year, averaging six in any given week.

The extensive works on council mains include removing blockages, repairing or replacing “jump-ups” – which connect private sewer lines to the mains network – and repairing, replacing and modifying manholes.

The data also shows the council has on average received a complaint about blockages in the system every week for the past 15 months, most commonly from tree roots, in some cases causing raw sewage to overflow from manholes in backyards.

Many of the complaints relate to ongoing problems on the “council” side of the sewer system – most of which dates back to the Depression era of the 1930s – with plumbers advising frustrated householders to contact the council.

Blockages in council mains alone since July 2008 number 137, averaging out to at least one each week for the period.

The data details work done on the council-owned or public side of the sewer network, with separate statistics for unblocking household sewer lines by council plumbers.

These “private” jobs total 260 since July 2008, although a council spokesman yesterday conceded a proportion would have been found by staff to be on the “council” side.

The release of the information to the Daily News follows a major sewage spill in January, when what Mayor Ron Bellingham described as “a series of technical failures” led to a large amount of raw material flowing into the Condamine River at Tulloch Park on Grafton Street.

The council was lucky to avoid a hefty fine over the incident, with the State Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) having penalised other councils in Queensland up to $50,000 for similar spills.

The maximum fine is $170,000.

The January 12 incident was blamed on a blockage in a council sewer line on Wattle Avenue, a manhole cover which failed to open to relieve pressure and a second line in the vicinity – which could have taken the overflow – also being blocked by tree roots.

The raw sewage instead found its way into the stormwater network and soon after into the river, with Cr Bellingham moving to reassure the community the flow in the river from rain at the time had “diluted” the material.

The environmental risk was at the time compounded by a public health issue with young children having been seen swimming in the river during the school holidays.

The Daily News can also reveal that the council has suspended smoke testing of sewers, a method commonly used to detect “infiltration” points in sewer lines caused by cracking of pipes or by tree roots, as well as illegal household connections.

Smoke is pumped into the lines and contractors can detect problem areas by observing where the smoke exits the system through manholes and other inspection points.

Instead, a spokesman confirmed yesterday consultants were collecting “flow data” from sections of mains with high infiltration rates during rainfall “events” to find priority locations for repairs and replacements.

“The original sewerage scheme for Warwick was installed in the late 1930s and early 1940s and much of the original infrastructure is now reaching the end of its theoretical useful life,” he said.

“Many of the jobs undertaken by council on its sewerage infrastructure are picked up as part of its sewer inspection program or initiated by customers to suit new building works on properties.”

He said replacement and repair of manholes was the result of a council sewer inspection program, with a two-person crew systematically assessing the sewer infrastructure “street by street”.

“The location, age and condition of the assets is captured on forms which is recorded in our asset management system,” the spokesman said.

“Details of any manholes or mains which need to be replaced are passed on to the sewer maintenance crew for scheduled maintenance.

“However, with 221 kilometres of sewers, 3454 manholes and 5210 connections there is bound to be a number of system failures from time to time, most often as a result of tree root intrusion.”

He said the work being done by the consultants on infiltrations would develop a sewer rehabilitation program “for inclusion in council’s 10-year financial plan”.

The council’s expenditure on sewerage last financial year made up just four per cent of total spending on assets, with the focus in recent years on completing an upgrade to the Warwick treatment plant.

The upgrade was a priority due to Queensland Government environmental targets on effluent quality.

Nearly $200,000 was spent on the new public toilet block in Grafton Street and $700,000 on the effluent re-use scheme for sporting grounds.

Think it stinks? Call us with your smelly tale on 4660 1310.

Facts...

Council’s sewer network includes –

221km of sewer mains and lines

3454 manholes

5210 connections



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