Stuarts Point septic spill evacuees demand fix to ‘problematic system’

The overflow from septic tanks in Roger Earl’s coastal village made him and other residents angry, but sadly not surprised.

Important points:

  • At least 11 property owners are now allowed to return to their homes in Stuarts Point
  • An evacuation order remains in place for some areas
  • The Kempsey Shire Council says plans for a centralized sewer system will minimize overflows in the future

Mr Earl’s house was one of at least 45 houses evacuated last Friday evening at Stuarts Point on the north central coast of New South Wales.

He and other disgruntled residents hoped that a community meeting earlier this week would provide some solutions on how to prevent such a disaster from happening again.

“We weren’t told anything,” said Mr. Earl.

“Why are water and sewage the way they are? They should have been fixed years ago, ”he said.

Stuarts Point is not connected to a central sewer system, most properties use old septic tanks.

The outdated infrastructure combined with the shallow water table in the region increases the risk of septic tanks being spilled.

The recent floods exacerbated the underlying problem and caused widespread contamination.

David Griffiths plans to rebuild his home after it was flooded with a septic overflow. (

ABC Coffs Coast: Claudia Jambor

)

Seven days after their evacuation, some residents were allowed to return home.

Others, like David Griffiths, face a confronting damage bill after six inches of septic tanks entered his home.

“I think we will try to get a rainfall, rebuild it and increase it.”

For resident Ray Moorcroft, the sewage that rose in his toilet bowl on Thursday was a warning sign of the disaster.

“We had to look at friends’ places,” he said.

“So it became a problem, how do we just do basic things like go to the bathroom.”

The Kempsey Shire Council said it gave residents access to public facilities when needed.

A man with gray hair, a black t-shirt, gray pants and glasses stands in front of a blue weather board. A system upgrade is urgently needed, according to Ray Moorcroft. (

ABC Coffs Coast: Claudia Jambor

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Mr Moorcroft would like the Council to accelerate its plan to connect Stuarts Point to a modernized sewer system like the rest of the Shire.

“I put pressure on before this flood,” he said.

“This is a problematic system.”

Construction of the Stuarts Point sewage system is expected to begin in 2023.

Council operations manager Robert Fish said the project was delayed due to a lengthy Aboriginal land claim in the area where the plant is to be built.

He said the much-needed upgrade remains a priority.

“We understand its importance to the Stuarts Point community and we will continue to push it … as soon as we can,” said Fish.

A house cordoned off with duct tape. Some houses in Stuarts Point remain cordoned off as authorities continue decontamination work. ((

ABC Coffs Coast: Claudia Jambor

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The recent floods and their devastating effects at Stuarts Point underscore the need for important improvements.

Stuart Khan, associate professor at the University of NSW’s Global Water Institute, said existing state government programs to update water and wastewater infrastructure in rural areas should be accelerated.

“We still have a lot to do to ensure that all of our drinking water and sewage systems are updated,” said Dr. Khan.

“To be as resilient as possible in the face of the ongoing challenges of climate change and the associated extreme weather events.”

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