The EPA Annual Report 2017-18 covers the work of the EPA Board and Director, and the activities undertaken by staff of EPA Tasmania (a Division of DPIPWE) during the last financial year. It is now available to the public here.
The terms of the EPA Board members and deputies expired during the year and a new Board was appointed. One new member, Belinda Hazell was appointed while four of the existing members; Chair, Warren Jones, Deputy Chair, Tony Ferrier, member, Colin Buxton and the EPA Director, Wes Ford were reappointed for further terms.
The EPA Board received the findings of an independent review into its assessment processes in September. The aim of the review, which was based on feedback from internal and external stakeholders, was to improve the efficiency of current procedures. The Board prepared a response to each of the recommendations identified by the consultants. While the straightforward ones were implemented immediately, an implementation plan was prepared and further consultation is anticipated.
The EPA completed the environmental assessment of 24 proposed Level 2 activities during the year. All but one were completed within the statutory timeframe and no decisions were appealed or overturned due to incorrect procedures. A decision made by the Supreme Court in December resulted in the need for future proposals that involve excavations of more than 5000 cubic metres of substrate material (eg undertaken as part of construction works for buildings and roads) to be assessed by the EPA. One such development proposed for a dense urban environment was referred to the EPA for assessment during the year.
Salmon industry regulation and assessment
Since 2016, the EPA has been the independent regulator of the State's salmon farming industry. A key achievement this year was to finalise the legislative arrangements for the full transfer of this responsibility to the EPA, amending the existing legislation and introducing the Finfish Farming Environmental Regulation Act 2017. Under the amendments, the EPA Board is now required to assess new aquaculture proposals. It completed its first of these during the year with the assessment of a large salmon nursery facility at Whale Point.
The EPA's Salmon Environmental Management Section was expanded to nine staff during the year. It focussed on implementing the new Finfish Act, developing procedures for regulating fish farms and commencing the process for issuing environmental licences to all regulated premises. The Section also continued with the day-to-day environmental regulation of the salmon industry, covering 45 licensed marine farming leases and 16 inland farms. In Macquarie Harbour, key activities included four monthly compliance assessments, overseeing the implementation of a waste capture system, assessing the proposal to restock the Franklin lease and supporting the Director to set the biomass cap for the Harbour.
Apart from salmon farming, the EPA regulated around 480 Level 2 activities this year, including large mining and industrial operations, wastewater treatment plants and landfills across the State. For these the EPA issued 47 Environment Protection Notices, undertook 89 compliance audits and conducted 130 site inspections. In addition, the EPA regulates contaminated sites, underground petroleum storage systems (UPSS), and controlled waste; and this year issued or completed 14 contamination notices, decommissioned or registered 17 UPSS, issued 269 authorisations for waste transport, and granted 93 approvals for waste disposal.
The latest data available on wastewater treatment in Tasmania (for 2016-17) shows that of the 56,062 ML of treated effluent produced in the State: 51.2% was dischared into estuarine waters, 27.9% into coastal waters, 12.5% into inland waters, and 8.4% was discharged onto land as recycled water for irrigation and agricultural purposes. According to the latest waste data available (also for 2016-17), the State generated an estimated 736,741 tonnes of waste of which 415,863 tonnes (56.4%) was disposed of to landfill and 320,878 tonnes (43.6%) was recovered through recycling and composting.
The EPA continued its active involvement with other Australian jurisdictions in the development of a national approach to the management of per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds (PFAS). PFAS are a family of manufactured chemicals that persist in the environment and are a contaminant of global concern. At a state level, the EPA coordinated a collaborative approach to the management of PFAS, working with relevant State agencies to draft a PFAS Action Plan for Tasmania, and commenced integrating PFAS management into routine EPA regulatory practices.
Scientific and technical advice
The EPA Board and Director receive expert scientific and technical advice from staff of EPA Tasmania who undertake regular monitoring of air, water and noise. EPA Tasmania's Air Section continued to receive recognition for innovation and achievements with two individual awards this year. At the start of the year, they installed a purpose built air quality monitoring station at the Hobart Port, in response to public concern about the impact of cruise ship emissions. This recorded continuous measurements of ambient sulphur dioxide concentrations and showed that the levels were well below the relevant national standards.
The Water Section continued its ongoing water quality monitoring in Macquarie Harbour and commenced monitoring of key nutrient indicators in Mercury Passage and Storm Bay, to independently validate information collected for aquaculture activities. The Noise Section undertook four noise surveys during the year, of one to two weeks duration, using high-quality audio recordings in response to public concerns about noisy heat pumps, general traffic noise, and a Level 2 activity in a quiet rural area.
Enforcement, public enquiries and media
The EPA prosecuted two individuals and 11 corporate bodies by infringement notice for various contraventions of environmental legislation. The owner and master of a commercial fishing vessel were convicted in court for a diesel spill in the River Derwent in November 2015; they were fined a total of $45,000. There were 1,520 public reports recorded by the EPA during the year; comprised of 529 complaints, 534 enquiries, 258 notifications, 47 incidents and 152 reports about issues such as odours, chemical spills, emergency incidents and hazardous waste. The EPA continued to publish a range of information on the EPA website, including monthly EPA Board Communiques, produced 39 news stories and responded to 99 separate media enquiries.
Further details of the activities undertaken by the EPA in the last financial year are available in the EPA Annual Report 2017-18.