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9 October 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 torquaydam@srw.com.au.

7 October 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 communications@srw.com.au, 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: communications@srw.com.au 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.

FAQs – updated

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 unusual size for large farming enterprises.

 What happens if it rains?

A “turkey nest” dam and 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 has been set and will be pumped at a reduced rate.

There is currently no seepage in the properties that were affected on Friday night.

What caused the leak?

Our engineers are continuing to monitor and test a range of sites, but have been unable to identify the source of the leak yet. We have monitored and assessed the site throughout the weekend, and we will continue further investigations. As the dam level has now dropped, this may also assist monitoring.

 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, have reviewed the effectiveness of all of the steps taken so far, and agreed that this is no longer an emergency situation.

Southern Rural Water engineers and technical advisers will continue to investigate the source of the water over the coming days.

The dam will remain at this operational level or less.   Whether the dam can return to its full capacity will depend on the results of all investigations and reviews and the absolute satisfaction of SRW that an incident of this type will not be repeated.

 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 have been conscious of 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 us at srw@srw.com.au 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.