Mobil Oil has been ordered to stop polluting the Yarra River (Victoria, Australia) with industrial discharge in a historic deal to improve the health of the waterway. The deal to be announced by the state government today will end decades of companies being allowed to pour contaminated water into the Yarra, which environmentalists fear is already over-polluted.
Mobil has been pumping waste water into the Yarra for 40 years. It was the last remaining corporation allowed to do so, after the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) last year granted it a licence to continue the discharges, a move widely condemned at the time. Under a new agreement with the EPA, the company will now be required to divert the waste water from its oil refinery at Yarraville to City West Water's sewerage system. It has been given until June next year to make the infrastructure upgrades necessary to comply with the arrangement - meaning up to 25 kilolitres of waste water will go into the river every day until then. Environment Minister Ryan Smith said the deal would nonetheless see an end to ''yesteryear practices'' that were ''completely inconsistent with community expectations''. ''Improving the health of the river and bay is a job for all of us in the community and it is good to see industry playing their part,'' he said. But while the minister hopes the river will eventually be safe for swimming, EPA chief John Merritt said this was unlikely. ''If you look at the health of every river that flows through every major city, none of them are swimming pools,'' he said. E. coli bacteria readings taken by the EPA on Wednesday show pollution remains a big problem, with low water quality around the Princes Bridge and medium quality around Docklands, Abbotsford and South Yarra.
Over the years, businesses along the Yarra - including the Port of Melbourne, Orica and Sugar Australia - were allowed to discharge waste water into the river, but the EPA has been phasing this out gradually. Mobil has had a licence to pump waste water into the river since 1973. Spokesman Alan Bailey said Mobil discharged about 25 kilolitres of waste water a day, far less than the maximum permitted under the licence.
Environmentalists and lobby groups have welcomed the shift, but say a lot more needs to be done to improve the Yarra's health. Ian Penrose, for the Yarra Riverkeepers Association, said greater priority must be given to finding alternative water sources - such as stormwater and recycled water - to safeguard the river from ''over-extraction''. But a major problem, he said, was the river being ''constantly degraded by encroaching urban development''.
Mobil told to stop polluting Yarra, www.theage.com.au, May 20, 2012