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Melbourne Water releases final plan for contaminated creek

A year after runoff from a factory fire contaminated Melbourne’s Stony Creek, the focus is shifting from clean-up to ongoing conservation.

The fire in West Footscray in August 2018 burned for two weeks and resulted in what has been described as the worst pollution event in a Melbourne waterway in nearly 30 years. 

Although measures were in place to contain contaminated runoff, the volume of water used to fight the fire – up to 16,000 litres a minute at some points – meant a significant amount escaped.

As a result, dead fish, eels and other marine life washed up on the banks of the creek, vegetation died, and residents complained of migraines, nosebleeds and sore throats.

Melbourne Water, the Victorian Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and Maribyrnong City Council (MCC) worked together on the recovery effort in the immediate aftermath of the fire. This included pumping 70 ML of polluted water from the creek and removing contaminated sediment.

They also scraped the creek banks and pressure-washed rocks to get rid of toxic sludge, and removed affected trees and shrubs.

Melbourne Water, the Victorian EPA and Maribyrnong City Council are working together to restore Stony Creek. Image: Melbourne Water

Once the initial clean-up was complete, the organisations turned their attention to the future. Through a community engagement strategy that included an online portal, information events and a two-day seminar, they worked with local residents to develop a long-term plan for the waterway.

This was particularly important as Stony Creek has a long history of low water quality due to impacts from residential and industrial development, litter and stormwater discharges. 

Despite this, it is highly valued by the local community for its recreational use and the native plants and animals it supports.

The resulting Stony Creek Rehabilitation Plan 2019-2029 is a decade-long strategy that reflects the community’s top priorities for the creek: improving waterway health and water quality.

It focuses on a 5 km stretch of the creek and outlines actions each organisation will take to make the creek “Australia’s best protected, connected and respected urban waterway”. 

The Stony Creek Rehabilitation Plan focuses on a 5 km stretch of the creek.

In the short-term, this includes Melbourne Water and the EPA investigating reasons for poor water quality in the creek and developing strategies to solve them. They will also install water quality sensors throughout the catchment to investigate sources of pollution.

Longer-term commitments include MCC ensuring planning controls are in place to protect the creek, and Melbourne Water planting aquatic vegetation to promote oxygenation of the water and provide a habitat for aquatic animals. 

Melbourne Water Executive General Manager – Service Delivery Nerina Di Lorenzo said the plan reflects the organisation's dedication to rehabilitating the creek.

“As the caretaker of Melbourne’s waterways, Melbourne Water understands how valued Stony Creek is to the local community, and how passionate people are about its recovery and rehabilitation,” Di Lorenzo said.

“This plan identifies long-term and sustained actions that span recovery to active rehabilitation of the creek and its surrounds, including an aspirational community vision for Stony Creek.”

Once the project is complete, the organisations hope it is seen as a showcase for how community, government and business can partner to achieve long-term physical, social and ecological benefits.

View the plan here.

Has your organisation been involved in an innovative or interesting project? Submit a paper, panel or workshop to Ozwater’20, held in Adelaide from 5 to 7 May 2020. For more information, click here.