Protecting waterways during the Coolaroo recycling plant fire

Friday 25 August 2017
Melbourne Water has recently completed a major operation to protect waterways in Melbourne’s North West after the Coolaroo recycling plant fire, which included pumping millions of litres of contaminated water out of Merlynston Creek.​

On 13 July 2017, a fire broke out at the SKM recycling facility in Maffra Street, Coolaroo. The waste pile of plastic, paper and cardboard was approximately 75,000 cubic metres in size and took over two weeks to fully extinguish.

For Melbourne Water, this event meant a 24 hour-a-day response to manage water runoff into surrounding waterways which was maintained for the full duration of the fire.

Melbourne Water Regional Services Manager, West, Emily Phillips, said the operation required significant resources.

“More than 40 Melbourne Water staff contributed to the response effort during the incident period which was focussed on minimising environmental and social impacts of the fire on waterways in the region,” she said.

“Approximately 140 million litres of contaminated fire runoff was pumped out of Merlynston Creek during the event and this meant having pump crews on-site around the clock.”

“We also had teams of people checking the status of our booms which were placed strategically along the impacted waterways to capture pollution, as well as people removing dead carp and conducting water quality testing.

“The fish deaths were the result of very low levels of dissolved oxygen, which can be caused by chemicals from firefighting foams entering the water. Unfortunately at least 400 dead carp were removed from Jack Roper Reserve, downstream of Merlynston Creek.

“While carp are an introduced pest species, animal deaths are always regrettable and Melbourne Water even brought in an oxygenation pump to try and increase oxygen levels at the reserve to reduce the impact on wildlife.

“Our combined works ultimately protected downstream waterways including Merri Creek and the Yarra River from being polluted by run off from the fire as well as maintaining the visual amenity of Jack Roper Reserve and other popular public sites along the waterway.

“We would like to thank the Broadmeadows community who were patient and supportive while we were creating additional noise and traffic during the incident.

“We were also strongly supported by Hume and Moreland councils as well as MFB, EPA and Yarra Valley Water. This interagency support assisted us greatly in protecting the health of some of some of our most valuable urban waterways.”

Ms Phillips said lessons from the long running fire would help Melbourne Water to better prepare for future incidents of similar scale.

“We were able to deliver good environmental outcomes while improving our understanding of managing very long running incidents as a result of this fire. This experience will absolutely help us to be even better prepared to protect our waterways in future pollution events.” 

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