Resolved eventually

Mains water leak entering Merri Creek
Mains water leak entering Merri Creek
Mains water leak on its way to Merri Creek
Mains water leak on its way to Merri Creek

On 19 January 2019 I reported to the EPA Pollution Watch line a drain running strongly with clear, somewhat chlorine-smelling water, and flowing into Merri Creek just south of Moreland Road, East Brunswick.  I had seen it a couple of times earlier, but the chlorine smell this time alarmed me.  Chlorine sterilizes water and in sufficient quantity could damage the ecology of Merri Creek. I estimated that the flow was approximately 2 litres per second.  An hour later an officer called back to get more detail.

I hadn't heard any news by the 22nd Jan, and the water was still running, so I called EPA back to say it was still running.  The person on the phone said I should have been clearer that the discharge was to the Creek (I had mentioned that in the first call but...)

On the 28th Jan it was still running, so I called back again.

On 31 Jan I had a call from an EPA officer who was investigating, and on Feb 3 they told me that Yarra Valley Water said that it was a leak.  I estimated that 2.6 million litres of water had been wasted, water that was being replaced by desalinating water at great cost financially and environmentally.

On 5 Feb Yarra Valley Water called back and said the leak had been tracked to a leaking fire service, and that the owner was responsible, and was required to fix the leak within 7 days (I think they had been served a "Fire System Red Notice").  A fire service is a separate pipe for business premises to run their fire sprinklers from or for a hydrant connection for the fire brigade if there is a fire.  The officer explained that unlike normal connections to the main, which were constructed and maintained by Yarra Valley Water, fire services were the responsibility of the property owner, all the way to the main, and that even though this leak was under the road, it would have to be the property owner who fixed the leak.

Researching fire services I found out that only recently did it become mandatory for fire services to be metered, but in any case this lead would have been before any meter, so the property owner wouldn't be paying for the water.  What incentive would there be for the property owner to fix this leak I wondered.

On 19 Feb, the discharge was still continuing, one month after I initially reported the leak, and 7 days after the deadline the owner was given to fix the leak, so I called back Yarra Valley Water who was not aware that the leak had not been fixed.  The officer offered to follow up with the team who enforce red notices.  He said they didn't like to be confrontational but would keep working with the owner.

On 19 March I called Yarra Valley Water back to say the discharge to the Creek was continuing.  The officer later got back to me to say that the initial notice had been served on the occupier by mistake rather than the owner (there were language problems), but that I could now expect action.

On 1 April I spoke to the same officer to say the flow was still going.  It was still going on 15 April.  14.8 million litres later.  Victoria has ordered 125 gigalitres of water from the desal plant for $100 million.  Doing the figures, replacing the water that has been lost would cost $12,000!

So I conclude that the system is broken.  Wouldn't it be better if Yarra Valley Water were responsible for maintenance of fire service connections between the main and the property as is the case with normal water connections? Okay they might need to increase their fees for fire service connections, but leaks would then at least get fixed. 

25 April 2019 Update: Yarra Valley Water have acknowledged that negotiations with the landowner have broken down, and they have engaged a contractor to repair the main, hopefully in the next few weeks.  Meantime the flow continues.  I have written to the Minister for Water suggesting the process should be changed (see the letter here).

3 May 2019 Update: on 1 May I received a message from YVW letting me know that the leak had been fixed, and that they had received the copy of the letter to the Minister that I had cc'd to them.  I confirmed today that the leak had finally been fixed by checking the drain through which it was flowing into Merri Creek, and sure enough the flow had reduced to a trickle.  Over the 14 weeks since I first reported the leak I estimate 17million litres of water was lost.

24 May 2019 Update: on 15 May I received a reply from an officer of DELWP on behalf of the Minister that, predictably, misses the point of my letter entirely.  Their reply merely states that the leak was fixed as fast as possible (which is not true except from a bureaucrat's perspective).  Here is a link to their reply, redacted as requested.  My point was if the regulations were changed so that Yarra Valley Water could immediately engage a contractor to fix the leak, the leak would have been fixed almost 3 months earlier, and 17 million litres of water saved from this one leak.  I wrote back to the Minister emphasising this point, and cc'd the letter to the Shadow Minister for Water. 

13 June 2019 update: The second response from DELWP on behalf of the Minister basically says the regulations will be renewed in 2024, with public input in 2023, so please make input then.  It notes that "This regulation is based on the policy that the cost of maintenance and repair of private fire services is placed on the owners of the works and not spread to other water customers through water corporation charges".  Yes, but it depends how you define private doesn't it!   Aargh they have missed my point still!  Hopefully they will have the courtesy to invite me to have input to the review in four years time, because I might forget.

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