A poisoned South Creek is everyone's problem - and no-one's

Aaron Horne at the very heavily polluted South Creek near Ropes Crossing, only weeks after the St Marys factory fire in 2015. Picture: Gary Warrick

Aaron Horne at the very heavily polluted South Creek near Ropes Crossing, only weeks after the St Marys factory fire in 2015. Picture: Gary Warrick

AARON Horne of fishing shop Windsor Bait and Tackle feels he’s shouting into the wind with his repeated attempts over the years to get councils and the EPA to listen to what he’s seen in our creeks.

South Creek is so bad he fears for people who fish or swim in it. After a biodiesel factory fire at St Marys which drained into the creek two years ago, he saw dead deer floating down the creek. “[That incident] killed every single creature in the creek,” he said.

Aaron has been a fisherman on our creeks and Hawkesbury River for 30 years. “I’ve spent my entire life crawling around these creeks,” he said. “All the creatures that live in them are like my pets.” His love for them is clear, as he emotionally describes incidents where he’s found sick or dead creatures.

He said South Creek hasn’t recovered since the Dunheved Circuit factory fire in which litres of pure acid and other toxins entered it. 

“The toxins build up in the holes in South Creek,” he said. South Creek eventually drains into the Hawkesbury River at Governor Phillip Park at Windsor. 

He also described carp kills in Yarramundi Lagoon, Rickabys Creek and Currency Creek in Glossodia recently.

“Over this summer there have been six or eight major carp kills. We contacted Council and they said it was a natural event. I believe with the recent heatwave the water got up to a certain temperature and this activated the chemicals sitting on the bottom of the creek.”

When asked, the EPA said it had investigated one fish kill in Rickabys Creek in mid-January. They said the fish died due to reduced oxygen levels caused by lack of rain and high temperatures.

Aaron said the native fish in our creeks – Australian bass, native herring, catfish, eels and yellow-eye mullet – weren’t part of the recent kills as they sense pollution sooner and clear out to a better spot. “But they’ve got parasites, sores and diseases. When you see how cruel it is on the animals – it just destroys me – I’m shaking now just talking about it.” 

He mourned the fact of having a fishing shop in the midst of waterways that were polluted, “but I love this valley and I don’t want to see this happening. I want to stay here and fight,” he said. “I’m fighting for the little people, the prawn trawlers, the oyster farmers. I’ve talked to EPA, Hazmat, Fisheries and Council. Ever since the Liberal state government got in, all the river testing has stopped.”

The Gazette asked Hawkesbury Council and the EPA what can be done and who is responsible for our creeks’ health. 

The EPA probably hit the nail on the head when it described what amounts to the creek being motherless – its health is everyone’s problem – and no-one’s.

“A clean-up of South Creek would be a multilayered project as it is about 70km long and forms part of the Hawkesbury Nepean catchment. It has 17 tributaries and crosses five local government areas – Hawkesbury, Penrith, Blacktown, Liverpool and Camden,” the spokeswoman said.

She said the EPA was “responsible for regulating pollution from the activities of public authorities and from licensed major industrial premises”.

Those who pollute are required to do the clean up – but when the culprit cannot be identified, it becomes much less clear which government body is responsible for the clean up then.

Hawkesbury Council said it was required to report pollution incidents to the appropriate authority, which could be the NSW EPA or the NSW Office of Water or the NSW Department of Primary Industries - Water office.

“If there is a pollution incident Council may become involved, in partnership with the other authorities, and conduct water testing,” Council’s director of city planning, Matt Owens said.

“Council would like to undertake regular water quality testing of local waterways and prepare annual report cards on the results of the testing. 

“To date Council has been unsuccessful in securing funding from the NSW Government to develop a water quality testing program.

“Council will continue to apply for grants, as they become available, to prepare annual water quality report cards.”

The  EPA said it was prepared to investigate any incidences of water pollution and encourages residents to report to it on 131 555.