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Torquay Dam

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Background

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, 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.

Torquay-Dam

Caption: the private Torquay Dam, adjacent to properties on Pintail Drive where water was pooling on the weekend of 2-4 October 2020.

Updates

June 16 2022

VCAT Application P11797/2021 – Dam at 1075 Horseshoe Bend Road, Torquay 

During a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) hearing last week, Southern Rural Water and the Dam Owner agreed that the VCAT stay on Southern Rural Water’s direction to the Dam Owner will be lifted on 30 June 2022, by which time the Dam Owner must lower the water level in the dam to, at or below, 9.5 metres (which is ground level).  This is consistent with the findings of the Independent Panel who considered this matter last year.

By 1 August 2022, the applicant is also required to apply to Southern Rural Water to modify the dam such that it can no longer hold water above 9.5m.  This is consistent with the notice SRW issued to the Dam Owner last year.

The proceedings are adjourned to an administrative mention on 3 October 2022, by which time the applicant and Southern Rural Water must advise if the matter is resolved or if further procedural orders or a hearing day is required.

Southern Rural Water will continue to undertake inspections until the remediation works are completed by the dam owner. 

VCAT Application P11797/2021

 

15 February 2022 

On Thursday 20 January, Southern Rural Water (SRW) attended a hearing at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT). The hearing focused on finalising the timing and process for presentation of arguments by both the dam owner and SRW. Having considered the matters put before it, VCAT determined that additional time would be required for the parties to submit and consider information provided by each other’s expert witnesses.  

VCAT determined that the hearing would run between Wednesday, 8 June and Tuesday, 15 June 2022 to provide all parties involved a fair and reasonable amount of time to prepare and consider each other’s evidence. 

 Key dates: 

  • Wednesday, 16 March: Lay evidence: the Torquay Dam owner will provide a submission on the farm operations and water requirements. 
  • Wednesday, 20 April: Expert evidence provided to VCAT. 
  • Wednesday, 11 May: Conclave report, where both parties’ expert witnesses meet without legal representation to discuss and question each other’s evidence. The minutes of the meeting are provided to VCAT.  
  • Wednesday, 25 May: Supplementary expert submissions to VCAT. 
  • Wednesday, 1 June: Final expert submissions are due to VCAT.  
  • Wednesday, 8 June until Tuesday, 15 June 2022: The hearing is scheduled. 

 

29 November 2021

On Monday, 29 November, Southern Rural Water (SRW) received the advice that VCAT has approved the request by property owners at 1075 Horseshoe Bend Road to VCAT to ‘stay’ (that is, suspend temporarily) the effect of directions issued by Southern Rural Water in October 2021.  

As a result of this order by VCAT, the dam owner will be able to continue to operate the dam at a maximum level of 12m whilst their appeal for a review of our decision to refuse their licence application is considered (this is the same maximum level the dam has been operating at since October 2020).  

The property owners must continue to monitor and report on the dam’s conditions to Southern Rural Water.  

This decision is a temporary measure that allows VCAT to undertake a full hearing on the merits of the decisions taken by SRW on this matter before making a final determination. SRW’s position on this matter remains unchanged, and we will continue to present our position at the full VCAT appeal hearing which has been scheduled to take place between 15 and 18 March 2022, with a practice hearing scheduled for the 20 January 2022. 

To view the full VCAT orders, please Click Here.

 

November 2021 

The dam owner has made an application to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) to review:

  • our decision on the works licence for the dam; and
  • separately the directions to lower the water level in the dam, reduce the dam wall height and put in place other safety and management measures.

The property has applied to VCAT to “stay” (that is suspend temporarily) the effect of directions, particularly the requirement to lower the water level, until the final hearing of the application for review, likely to take place around March next year.

A preliminary hearing before the Tribunal to consider the request for the stay started (for two hours) on Friday,12 November and was completed on Monday, 22 November, following requests by the Tribunal for additional information.

A written decision by the Tribunal will be provided, this is likely in the next few days. We will provide an update as soon as we have more information.

 

October 2021 

Southern Rural Water (SRW) received an application from the dam owner regarding the future operations of the dam at Horseshoe Bend Road, Torquay. There have been interim arrangements for the management of the dam in place since local residents identified seepage of water in October 2020.

An Independent Panel Hearing to consider submissions on the future of the dam was held in August 2021. As directed by the Panel, documents and resources of potential relevance to the panel hearing are provided below.

The Independent Panel received written and verbal submissions from both the dam owner, who was represented by senior legal Counsel and an experienced Dam Safety Engineer, and local residents.

The Independent Panel found that the safety of the dam in its current configuration  could not be demonstrated.  Having considered the findings of the Independent Panel, SRW has rejected the application made by the dam owner and has issued legal notices requiring the dam water height to be reduced to ground level to avoid any future public safety risk. Application assessment documents are provided below.

July 2021

Letters were issued last week to submitters of Application No. AN JW1624119 who followed official application processes. These submissions were assessed by an independent panel, who were appointed pursuant to section 66 of the Water Act 1989 (Act), to consider submissions made on an Application to which section 65 of the Act applies.

A Direction Hearing for submitters was set for later in the month. After which time, a Panel Hearing took place from Monday 23 August 2021.

 

May 2021 

Southern Rural Water advised that it received an application (No. AN JW1624119) made under section 67 of the Water Act 1989, which seeks approval to undertake works to alter the dam at the property described as 1075 Horseshoe Bend Road, Torquay. The proposed works were to install a spillway to enable the dam to be operated at a safe level. Southern Rural Water sought comment from interested parties as part of the application process.

 

April 2021

Southern Rural Water (SRW) met with the Torquay Dam Community Group on Tuesday, 20 April to discuss next steps regarding the future operations of the private dam at Horseshoe Bend Road, Torquay. 

SRW received an application from the dam owner by the deadline of 9 April regarding a proposal for future operations of the dam.

  • 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.  
  • SRW intends to convene an independent licensing assessment panel to assist with the review.  
  • SRW will publicly notify residents and community when the application is open to receive submissions. 

 

February 2021

Southern Rural Water (SRW) met with the Torquay Dam Community Group 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.

He said 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.

 

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 was 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.

 

4 December 2020

Southern Rural Water 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.

 

11 November 2020

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.

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 attendees were 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 torquaydam@srw.com.au.

 

October 2020

Southern Rural Water conducted extensive investigations and tests on water sources, the privately-owned dam and its infrastructure to help identify the cause of the leaks.

Southern Rural Water met with residents in an online briefing 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.

 

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, 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

    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 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.

    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 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.

    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 torquaydam@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.