Within a two month period two industrial fires threatened Merri waterways. In late November 2015, runoff from at a large fire at an illegally operated wood dump had serious impacts on the ecology of Merri Creek in Somerton and 7km downstream. Then in January, a tyre recycling facility in Broadmeadows caught fire, with runoff entering upper parts of the Merlynston and Campbellfield Creeks, both tributaries of Merri Creek. In both instances, rapid response by Melbourne Water prevented more serious impacts.
In Somerton, these efforts were effective in halting the spread of polluted water even further downstream and in improving the water quality in the affected area. Nevertheless, the fire runoff has likely had a severe impact on the Growling Grass Frog population in this reach of Merri Creek. The pollution seems to have killed the annual production of tadpoles and it’s not known how well the population will re-establish from further upstream. The situation is being closely monitored by frog experts. We also don’t how long it will take for aquatic waterbugs to re-establish – most were killed - and whether there toxicants have persisted in the sediments. The Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning is leading studies of the ecological recovery.
In Broadmeadows, most of the contaminated runoff was confined by bunds and affected only a short stretch of Merlynston Creek. In the other direction, lack of access meant runoff reached an industrial stormwater wetland on Merlynston Creek. In both cases the heavily contaminated water was pumped out and disposed to sewer, thus protecting downstream reaches of both creeks.
Our congratulations to Melbourne Water staff for their efforts to protect our waterways and to Hume City Council in its a lead role in the Recovery Committees for both fires. All agencies have worked tirelessly to deal with the unprecedented issues these two fires have generated and MCMC has actively participated in the Recovery Committee process. In the longer term, we’re looking forward to stronger and more effective mechanisms to prevent similar disasters in the future. Too much of Merri Creek is at risk from poorly managed industrial areas.