THE owners of the largest dam on private land in the district are confident their dam is sound. Their confidence is backed up by Southern Rural Water, which inspected the dam – known locally as ‘Gardiner’s’ but now owned by the Couper family – in the wake of the dam failure on the Eddy property.
Annette Couper, who with husband Neil owns the property where the huge (370ML approximately) dam is located in O’Grady’s Ridge Road, Foster North, said that the dam was regularly inspected, including on the day the Eddy dam failed, and an emergency plan was in place.
When the dam wall broke on the Eddy property on the corner of O’Grady’s Ridge Road and Hoddle Road on June 9, it released a torrent of water which hit Foster in a flash flood. The silt-filled water poured from two dams, one with a capacity of around 30 to 40ML, the other measuring around 100ML. It was fortunately not enough water to do any significant damage or cause any injuries, though it necessitated a massive clean-up in the vicinity of Gardiners Road and Stockyard Creek. The shire removed more than 30 truck loads of debris from the Gardiners Road area and Foster’s Pearl Park is closed indefinitely.
“There is still debris to be removed and it is still too slippery and dangerous for public access,” said a shire spokesperson. “It is expected that the bridge will be OK, but it will be examined more closely once the debris has been removed. The park will need to dry out significantly to provide users with safe access.”
That was bad enough, but alarm has grown in the community about the prospect of a wall breaking on the far larger and similarly located – above Foster township – Couper dam.
Reassurance from Southern Rural Water
Community concern has prompted the Foster Chamber of Commerce and Industry at its last meeting to draft a letter to Southern Rural Water seeking reassurance that the Couper dam poses no threat “or if there is a risk to the town from this dam, will Southern Rural Water give timely warnings and take steps to remedy any threat posed?”
Meanwhile, The Mirror submitted a series of questions to Southern Rural Water and presents here the authority’s response.
“Southern Rural Water (SRW) attended the Couper dam following the recent failure of dams in the Foster area. At the time the dam was being operated in accordance with the licence conditions,” confirmed SRW General Manager Groundwater and Rivers, Craig Parker.
“The operation and maintenance of private dams is the responsibility of the dam owner. The Water Act requires large dams to have an operating licence that requires the dam owner to provide SRW with a surveillance and monitoring program as well as an emergency management plan.
“We will continue to work with the dam owner on these requirements. However, due to the size and location of the dam, SRW is this week engaging an engineer experienced in large farm dams to inspect the dam in the interim. The engineer will be asked to advise SRW if there are any immediate issues.
“SRW’s check on the dam did not reveal any immediate concerns. However, we are engaging our own farm dam engineer as a precautionary measure.”
To the suggestion that the dam was inordinately large, SRW explained that the dam was constructed over 30 years ago under approval from the licensing authority at the time, adding that all large private dams must be operated in accordance with current regulations.
Queried about the difference between regulations for private and public dams, SRW replied that the regulations for private dams and public dams operated by water authorities are different. The management of a public dam is the responsibility of the relevant authority and the management requirements are a reflection of the dimensions of the dam and the consequence of failure.
“Whilst SRW is the licensing authority, private dams are the responsibility of the dam owner,” said Mr Parker. “The Water Act and Ministerial Guidelines specify the requirements for licensing and operating private dams. SRW has the responsibility of ensuring licence holders operate their dams in accordance with their licence conditions.”
Finally, asked what emergency measures are in place for the (hopefully unlikely) scenario of the Couper dam wall breaking, Mr Parker responded: “In addition to engaging an engineer to inspect the dam, SRW will work with the dam owner to ensure that they continue to monitor the condition of the dam closely and that they contact us immediately if conditions change.”