By April Shepherd, Editor, Council Magazine
After a suite of wastewater upgrades in the past two years, Snowy Monaro Regional Council is prepared for the future – providing the community with new infrastructure for generations to come. The biggest of these upgrades is the new Council-led $14 million wastewater treatment plant in the small town of Bombala, which officially opened in January 2023.
Australia is full of small communities which often get overlooked when state and federal funding is concerned, especially rural towns such as Bombala. This is why Snowy Monaro Regional Council’s new state-of-the-art bio reactor wastewater treatment plant, funded by the Council in collaboration with the New South Wales and Federal Governments, is so notable for the community.
The initiative, which Council undertook all the design, procurement and project management work for, received $3.5 million from the State Government’s Restart NSW Fund Safe and Secure Water Program and $3.5 million from the Federal Government, with Council contributing $7 million.
The project replaced the 60-year old technology in the existing plant to prepare the community for future population growth and reduce environmental effects, as the previous plant was taking a toll on the local environment and Bombala River. Snowy Monaro Regional Council Manager Water & Wastewater Operations, Chris Witney, said, “It’s nice that this town is receiving a lot of good and necessary new infrastructure.
“With brand new water treatment and sewage treatment facilities, it will really help the town to be able to grow and enjoy the pristine environment that it’s a part of.” Snowy Monaro Regional Council Mayor, Narelle Davis, said, “Upgrading and renewal of the sewage system in Bombala provides the infrastructure to manage wastewater and sewage into the future.”
The planning process
The new wastewater treatment plant has been years in the making, with initial research and plans beginning nine years before it opened in January 2023. “There were some studies done before 2014 covering water security and secure yield,” Mr Witney said.
“In 2016 there was an envelope study done looking at the discharge parameters of the old plant and the impacts of this technology on the Bombala River.” Mr Witney said that during 2018 there was a more detailed investigation covering the project’s planning, documentation on scoping, and looking at the whole sewage catchment area.
Following this, the project went to tender in 2019 and was awarded the same year – with construction starting in December. The new facility was built on the same site as the previous plant, constructed in parallel with the existing plant as it operated and supported the town during construction.
“Once the new plant was operational, we were able to transition from the old plant to the new one and then start treating the effluent with the new technology,’ Mr Witney said. “Then the old trickle filter was decommissioned, demolished and turned into a big grassy section of land.”
Despite the plant only opening in January 2023, it has been in operation for nearly 18 months outside of its commissioning period.
“There was a period of leeway with the EPA in regards to a few licensing parameters, but within the last 12 months it’s been operating under its final licence with the EPA and performing really well,” Mr Witney said.
Why is it needed?
The project was a necessity for multiple reasons, such as improving the region’s environment and reducing pollution in waterways.
Another important reason was that – due to its age – the existing plant featured aged and outdated treatment technology, and therefore the cost of maintenance and keeping up with modern environmental standards was unfeasible and unsustainable.
The other main drivers of the project were the growing population of the region, and the significant number of tourists that visit the area – the more people, the more waste to be processed.
The new plant tops off a substantial period of replacements and upgrades to wastewater infrastructure in Bombala, with two new pump stations installed, the mains replaced and other sewer infrastructure upgraded.
“Getting new equipment helped a lot with the security and safety of the environment, as it was able to pump the effluent safely up to the treatment plant and avoid any spills and other detrimental environmental impacts,” Mr Witney said.
Mr Witney said the attention Council has amassed from the State and Federal Governments has been positively received, especially since it is the result of a merger between the Cooma Monaro, Bombala and Snowy River Shires in 2016, making it relatively young.
“There has been a lot of attention to the region, which is a good thing to get out there because sometimes with council mergers certain communities may be concerned about where the spending is going for their local town,” Mr Witney said. Council is also in the process of building a brand new water treatment plant, which is set to be commissioned within the next 12 months.
The area, which has long suffered with water quality issues due to the river water containing iron and manganese, will also receive a new water treatment plan – implementing new technology to improve water quality.
Securing a healthy future
The infrastructure updates and new plant will ensure a healthy environment for years to come. “The Bombala River is a beautiful, pristine environment. The community swims in this river. We’ve got some native fish, we’ve got platypus living in the region – that’s why we’re distributing a lot higher quality treated effluent now, so there’s a lot less total nitrogen, phosphorous and zero solids entering the river,” Mr Witney said.
Mr Witney said that the new plant has already reduced odour complaints – a common issue when the old plant was still in operation. Community feedback for the new plant has also been positive, with Mr Witney stating the response has been excellent, and that the community is eager for more new assets.