The project has financial risks for customer bills in the long term and is no longer a viable alternative approach for small town sewerage improvements. Wannon Water’s Board has therefore reluctantly decided not to proceed with this project.

What was proposed?

Over the past few years, Penshurst has been the focus of a case study looking at alternative ways to improve the management of small town sewage.

The Penshurst Adaptive Wastewater Project was being led by Wannon Water and actively supported by Southern Grampians Shire Council. It was also supported by the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action (DEECA) through the Great South Coast Integrated Water Management (IWM) Forum.

While the project was investigating a whole-of-town wastewater solution, as a first step one part of town was selected to trial a pilot wastewater management and water recycling system. The idea was that it would capture wastewater near the source, treat it and then re-use it on public open space.

Project costs too high

Our consultants originally estimated the full town project would cost nearly $10.4 million (pre-pandemic prices). However, recent estimates have shown the cost of the fully implemented solution for the entire town has risen substantially to $19.6 million.

Similarly, the pilot project costs have also risen from $1.7 million to $2.7 million, creating a $1 million funding shortfall.

What’s the issue?

Penshurst is the most densely populated unsewered small town within the Southern Grampians Shire.

A septic system audit conducted by the shire several years ago showed that 93 per cent (189 in total) of the septic systems inspected were not performing satisfactorily and did not meet current public health and environmental standards.

The town is located in a sensitive groundwater environment that is susceptible to pollution from septic systems. Installing pipes and other underground infrastructure is challenging due to the presence of volcanic rocks.

What’s the next step?

We acknowledge the current challenges around wastewater management in the Penshurst township and the impact it’s having on the environment and in limiting future development opportunities.

Therefore, while this particular project will not go ahead, we remain committed to engaging with the community and continuing to investigate other options to provide a sustainable wastewater solution.

We also plan to continue monitoring the quality of the groundwater at the installed monitoring sites. This will allow us to better understand some of the impacts of wastewater disposal in the town and help inform future investigations.