This page maintains updates in relation to the review of the Torquay private dam, which was involved in an incident on the weekend 2-4 October 2020, when Southern Rural Water (SRW) assisted Emergency Services (VICSES) and Surf Coast Shire in the response to reports of water pooling across backyards of three properties on Pintail Drive, Torquay.
The flow was suspected to be seeping from a leak in a large 180 megalitre (ML) private dam adjacent to properties on Pintail Drive. No houses were flooded.
An emergency incident was declared on Friday evening, 2 October 2020, and the decision was taken to evacuate approximately 40 nearby properties, involving around 100 residents, in the early hours of Saturday 3 October. Large volumes of water were pumped from the dam and it must remain at the 12m reduced level until the full investigation is complete.
Subsequently, SRW investigations showed that the water was traced to a disused pipe that was exposed to water inflow only at certain very high levels in the dam. The pipe has since been capped.
A section 80 notice under the Water Act (1989) is in place, which sets out limitations on the operation of the dam while the matters raised are addressed and the owner can show cause why the dam should not be decommissioned.
The terms of this notice remain until SRW is able to make a thorough assessment of any applications arising regarding the future operations of the dam.
Below: the private Torquay Dam, adjacent to properties on Pintail Drive where water was pooling on the weekend of 2-4 October 2020.
April 2021 update
Southern Rural Water (SRW) received an application from the dam owner by the deadline of 9 April regarding the future operations of the dam at Horseshoe Bend Road, Torquay. SRW is currently reviewing the application. It will be subject to a thorough assessment in accordance with the requirements of the Water Act (1989).
- SRW confirmed the dam owner has applied to alter the dam, by the installation of a piped spillway, to ensure it cannot be operated above the currently approved level of 12 metres.
- These are proposed to be interim arrangements, as SRW has been advised that the owner intends to construct an alternative dam on a nearby property.
- Any new dam will be assessed to ensure it meets licensing requirements.
While the assessment processes are underway, the owner must continue to keep the dam at the current reduced level to ensure public safety. SRW is meeting with the Torquay Dam Community Group soon to discuss the next steps.
February 2021 update
Southern Rural Water (SRW) met with the Torquay Dam Community Group last night (25 February) to update them on progress of the review into the operations of the dam.
Cameron FitzGerald, SRW Managing Director, told the group that the dam owner has been served with a notice of contravention, requiring the owner to obtain a licence under the Water Act to operate the dam, or move to decommission the dam. The owner must apply for the licence by 9 April.
If the dam owner applies to continue to operate the dam, SRW may choose to appoint an Independent Panel to review the application and any submissions from residents, stakeholders and the wider community.
This referral period would include the statutory 28-days for lodging submissions, and a further period for deliberations by the panel. This may include a period for the panel to hear from those who lodged a submission.
While these processes are underway, the owner must continue to keep the dam at the current reduced level to ensure public safety.
This page will be updated with further details as they emerge.
What is Southern Rural Water’s role?
Southern Rural Water regulates large private dams under the Water Act 1989. Large dams are regarded as potentially hazardous when their size and location may pose a risk to life, property or the environment. Licensed operating conditions are set to minimise the hazard risk and reduce the consequences of a dam failure.
What type of dam is it and how big is it?
This “turkey nest” dam is 180 megalitres in capacity, around the same volume as 72 Olympic-sized pools. This size is not an unusual size for large farming enterprises.
What is the dam owner required to do now? (updated 26 February 2021)
The dam owner must comply with two notices that address the immediate restricted operations of the dam, and the longer-term future of the dam:
- a renewed section 80 notice issued under the Water Act (1989), which reconfirms the restrictions on the temporary operations of the dam while the matter is under review.
- a notice of contravention issued under section 151 of the Water Act. This requires the dam owner, by the deadline of 9 April, to apply for either:
- a licence to undertake the works to allow the dam to be operated safely in the long-term; or
- a licence to undertake the works to decommission the dam
Who will review the application?
Southern Rural Water has the authority to make the determination to grant or deny a licence.
If the dam owner applies to continue to operate the dam, SRW is likely to appoint an Independent Panel to review the application and any submissions from residents, the dam owner and other stakeholders.
How long will it take before there is a decision?
SRW is working towards resolution of any application by the dam owner within six months. The timing will be guided by deliberations from the independent panel, if one is appointed. This may include an opportunity for the panel to hear from those who lodged a submission.
How will the public be informed throughout the process?
If an application is received, SRW will advertise the opportunity to make a submission on the application. This will be done through local newspapers and on this website page.
SRW is continuing to meet regularly with the residents’ representative group.
Regular updates will be available at: http://www.srw.com.au/torquay-dam/
FAQs from October 2020
What happens if it rains?
A “turkey nest” dam has no water catchment, so it is only going to capture rainfall directly on the surface. This would be minimal and have no impact on the reduced level.
There may be water that pools on some backyards due to rainfall, as the ground will already be quite moist from the recent leak.
When was the dam last inspected?
The dam was inspected in 2017, and SRW required the landowner to provide a dam engineers’ report. This was completed in 2017 and recommended a five-yearly inspection.
Has the dam been extended or increased in capacity?
No. Some 20cm of topsoil and grass was added to level the top of the dam walls in 2017, but the capacity was not increased.
What steps were taken to reduce the risk so that residents could return home?
The steps taken by the Emergency Services following advice from SRW geotechnical advisors and dam safety experts included removing water from the dam to minimise the risk of dam failure.
Specialists set an initial target to reduce the dam level by two (2) metres by removing a minimum of 60 megalitres (ML). Large pumps were brought in and this target was achieved by late afternoon, Sunday 4 October. For ongoing safety, the target of a further one (1) metre reduction was set.
There was no further seepage on the properties since the reduced level was instigated.
What was determined to be the cause of the leak?
SRW’s water quality tests, along with the coloured water tests, confirmed the water that appeared on the three properties came from the dam. These tests also confirmed that the water did not leak through the dam wall or its foundation, but from an uncapped, disused overflow pipe. The pipework was exposed only at certain high levels of water in the dam.
The pipework associated with the leak has been capped and pressure tested at the dam.
Why were residents told they needed to leave?
At the flow rate of the seepage observed late Friday and into the early hours of Saturday morning, specialists were concerned that the dam wall could fail.
If the dam had failed, the worst-case scenario would pose significant risk to people and property. Because of this, houses that were potentially at risk were evacuated as a precaution.
How can residents be sure it is safe to return?
The Emergency Services, led by VICSES managing the incident, reviewed the effectiveness of all of the steps taken, and agreed that this is no longer an emergency situation.
The dam may only operate at the reduced level under the terms of the section 80 notice while the review and assessment process is underway.
What type of water was in the dam and where has it gone?
The water in the dam is Class C recycled water and is used for agriculture. This is not suitable for drinking. The water is being discharged across farmland, drainage and some to the wetlands.
The incident managers took into consideration the potential impact of the release of dam water to the environment, including to downstream wetlands. Environmental officers continue to monitor the situation closely.
How can the community and residents stay updated on progress?
We will continue to update this page when we have more information for residents.
If you are a resident from the affected area and have questions or information for our team, please contact SRW at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1300 139 510.
Together with the Emergency Services, we sincerely thank all of the affected residents for their cooperation and understanding during this worrying time. We are grateful for your patience while we worked with VICSES, Victoria Police and other agencies to ensure it was safe for your return.
Updates December 2020
Southern Rural Water (SRW) met with the Torquay Community Group on Tuesday 15 December to provide an update on progress of investigations into the dam.
The group was told that the dam owner’s technical report was received on 30 November 2020, and that SRW had met with the owner to provide feedback on 14 December.
A review of the report by SRW’s dam safety engineers and an independent dam safety specialist identified that further information was required from the dam owner in order for SRW to be able to assess the proposals. The owner has been given a deadline of 1 February 2021 to respond.
A representative from Barwon Water also attended the meeting at the request of the TCG members. He explained how recycled water is managed and regulated with respect to the dam.
The conditions of the direction notice issued under section 80 of the Water Act (1989) remain in place, which limits the dam’s operations to 12m above sea level.
A further meeting to update residents on progress is planned for February.
4 December 2020 update
Southern Rural Water (SRW) last night (3 Dec) held its second meeting of the Torquay Community Group, to provide an overview of the process and next steps. The group comprises representatives from residents in the area closest to the dam.
The group was given an update on the notice SRW issued the dam owner, under section 80 of the Water Act (1989), requiring him to submit a dam safety engineering report by 30 November and to show cause as to why the dam should not be decommissioned.
The owner met the deadline required and SRW is now reviewing the report, which includes review by an independent dam safety specialist, after which feedback will be provided to the dam owner.
Cameron FitzGerald, Managing Director, told the group that the conditions of the direction notice will remain in place until the process is completed. This requires that the dam continues to operate at the reduced level, in order to ensure ongoing public safety.
The group were told that SRW will complete its technical review of the report and meet with the community group in mid-December to provide a more detailed summary and provide advice on the next steps in the process, including opportunities for their feedback.
It was also confirmed that any applications from the dam owner for future operations of the dam will need to be assessed by SRW under the Water Act (1989), which would include opportunities for the community and other stakeholders to provide submissions on the proposal.
Updates November 2020
11 November 2020 update
Southern Rural Water (SRW) met residents who had nominated for the SRW Torquay Community Group to discuss the privately-owned Torquay dam which led to the evacuation of about 100 residents from the Zeilly Sands Estate, Torquay last month.
The group met on 5 November and discussed an overview of current progress on investigations and the next steps, and draft terms of reference for the community group.
SRW Managing Director, Cameron FitzGerald and Manager Groundwater and Rivers, Hugh Christie, provided the group with an update on progress since Southern Rural Water issued the owner with a direction notice under section 80 of the Water Act (1989). Surf Coast Shire Acting CEO, Anne Howard also attended to answer questions.
The meeting was told that, in the short-term, the dam owner must maintain water at the current reduced level or below to ensure ongoing public safety, monitoring levels daily and providing regular reports. It must remain at the reduced level or below throughout the investigations and review period. The dam owner may pump from the small farm run-off dam to the main dam, as necessary, but will also need to extract water from the main dam to maintain the agreed reduced water level.
SRW’s water quality tests, along with the coloured water tests, confirmed the water that appeared on the three properties came from the dam. These tests also confirmed that the water did not leak through the dam wall or its foundation, but from an uncapped, disused overflow pipe.
The pipework associated with the leak has been capped and pressure tested at the dam end.
The dam owner is working with an engineer to prepare a report to show cause why the dam should not be decommissioned by 30 November 2020. This is in response to the directions notice SRW issued to the owner following the incident.
Residents may see a small drill/augur taking soil samples on behalf of the dam owner between the dam wall and adjacent properties in the coming weeks, which will provide results to assist with the report.
After 30 November, SRW will review the report with the assistance of an independent technical expert. The SRW Torquay Community Group will meet again to provide community perspective and insight into SRW’s consideration of the report. The first of these meetings will be 3 December
Any applications arising regarding future operations of the dam will follow the statutory process, which includes referrals and consultation with stakeholders. This will include affected residents and the Torquay Community Group.
Residents who live in close proximity to the dam, and who have questions about the process, or who would like to receive updates, can register their contact details and address by emailing email@example.com.
Updates October 2020
9 October 2020 update
Southern Rural Water has conducted extensive investigations and tests on water sources, the privately-owned dam and its infrastructure to help identify the cause of the leaks on Friday, which led to the evacuation of around 100 residents from areas of the Zeilly Sands Estate, Torquay.
Southern Rural Water met with residents in an online briefing on Thursday night and provided an update on the response, the investigation and steps it is taking to ensure the safety of residents.
The group was told that inspections of the dam walls did not reveal wet spots or damage that could be associated with the leak. The reduced level of water in the dam after the weekend’s pumping, helped to expose more of the dam and associated pipework.
Tests have confirmed that the water pooling on three properties and vacant land on Pintail Drive came from an uncapped pipe in the dam, which led to land that has now been built on near the south-west corner of the dam. It is believed that water only reached the old pipework when the dam reached high levels. Over the weekend the incident team reduced the level of the dam substantially using large pumps. This allowed residents to safely return to properties on Sunday afternoon.
Managing Director, Cameron FitzGerald told the group that Southern Rural Water had issued the owner with a direction notice under section 80 of the Water Act 1989. In the short-term, this means the owner must keep the water at the current reduced level or below to ensure ongoing public safety. In the longer term, it requires the owner to show cause by 30 November why the dam should not be decommissioned.
Details of future residents’ briefings will be updated on this page.
Southern Rural Water is also intending to establish a residents’ consultative group to assist with community engagement in relation to the future of the dam. Details of how to nominate will be available on this page.
Residents of the Zeilly Sands Estate close to the dam who would like to receive updates and an invitation to future briefings should register their contact details and address by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
7 October 2020 update
Southern Rural Water thanks the residents of the areas around Pintail Drive, Pintail Drive, Rippleside Drive, Cosy Ave, Wax Ave, Lowtide Drive and Druids Glen, Torquay, for their understanding and patience during, and since, the weekend’s emergency incident involving the private dam adjacent to Pintail Drive.
We are the regulator for large private dams under the Water Act 1989. Our top priority is to ensure public safety at all times. To achieve this, we are requiring the dam owner to implement a range of measures to ensure that there is not a repeat of the events of the weekend.
We would like to invite you to an online briefing for residents this Thursday 8 October from 6.30-7.30pm. At this meeting, we will be able to give you an update on what our engineers have learned, what measures we are implementing to address this issue, and how you will be informed about the next steps.
To register for this meeting, if you were one of the affected residents, please email your contact details (name, address, email and mobile, if available) to email@example.com, with “Torquay resident” in the subject line. We will contact you with more information and an invitation link to the Zoom meeting.
If you would like to get in touch about this meeting, please call 1300 139 510 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org with “Torquay resident” in the subject line.
5 October 2020
Over the weekend 2-4 October 2020, Southern Rural Water (SRW) assisted Emergency Services and Surf Coast Shire in the response to reports of water flowing across backyards of properties on Pintail Drive, Torquay.
The flow was suspected to be seeping up from a leak in a large 180 megalitre (ML) private dam adjacent to properties on Pintail Drive.
An emergency incident was declared on Friday evening, 2 October 2020 and the decision was taken to evacuate nearby properties in the early hours of Saturday 3 October.
SRW assigned officers, engineers, dam safety specialists and other staff to assist with managing the incident.