Pipe dreams cut short

NOTE: In the original online edition of this story, also printed in The Express on Monday, 25 January, it stated one of the properties impacted by Gippsland Water’s decision to decommission the Sunny Creek Road water main belonged to Ray and Val Giles. This is incorrect. Their property is not serviced by the Sunny Creek Road water main. The Express apologises for the error and any inconvenience caused.


Kath Sim has lived at her Trafalgar property since 1953. Myra Williams at hers for 58 years. Frank Hernadi has owned his for three decades.

These long-term residents are some of the 12 property owners serviced by the Sunny Creek Road water main west of Trafalgar.

For six decades they have enjoyed water provided via the two-kilometre Sunny Creek Road pipe.

But their water supply is about to be cut off.

From 15 January the residents were informed by an “out of the blue” letter that Gippsland Water would no longer repair or maintain the 60 year-old pipe.

The authority has given residents until September – three months more notice than the required six months – to install a water tank, bore or dam before the pipe is decommissioned.

Landowner Eric Johnson, whose property is serviced by the Sunny Creek Road main, believes this is simply not enough.

After lengthy and expensive approval and construction, which would need to be done by mid-autumn, residents installing a dam would then have to cross fingers for good winter rains.

“The timeframe for those that will need to put in infrastructure (before) they’re cut off is totally inadequate. It’s unrealistic to expect people to have this in place by September,” Mr Johnson said.

“Even if you put a dam in now, even if you could get a contractor, are you going to have any water in it by September?

“After 60 years (of supply) you just don’t expect you’re going to have your water cut off.”

Sunny Creek properties are supplied under a Water by Agreement, which allows water to be provided outside serviced areas.

The agreement does not allow a permanent right to access water and can end when a supply can no longer be made available.

But Frank Hernadi, a prominent Trafalgar businessman whose property is supplied by the Sunny Creek Road main, argues the Water by Agreement was an “agreement of perpetuity”.

“I believe that 60 years (since the pipe was constructed) is not an ordinary agreement, it’s an agreement of trust, moral obligation and duty of care,” Mr Hernadi said.

Residents along the water main have refused to accept Gippsland Water’s decision and have vowed to fight it.

Just days after being informed of the decision they had formed the Sunny Creek Water Group.

Mr Hernadi is the group coordinator.

“I’m rolling up my sleeves to do everything in my power to see that justice is done and people are treated fairly,” Mr Hernadi said.

Another property owner is Myra Williams, a widowed pensioner who says she cannot even afford to build a tank, which would cost her thousands of dollars.

“I don’t know where to turn… it’s a blow, it’s terrible,” she said.

Gippsland Water claims the Sunny Creek Road main has “reached the end of its life” and will not be replaced.

“Since 2007, there have been eight major failures along the main and 20 water quality complaints (either low pressure or no water at all),” a statement by the water authority said.

The pipe broke in November last year, leaving residents without water for two-and-a-half days.

Gippsland Water supplied landowners with bottled water.

While the water authority claims replacement of the pipe would cost it about $1 million, the residents are disputing that estimate.

They believe not enough has been done to maintain the pipe over the years.

Gippsland Water will meet with the landowners on Thursday.

“The decision to decommission the Sunny Creek main is not a decision that Gippsland Water has taken lightly,” its statement said.

“We appreciate that customers will need to make alternate arrangements for their water supplies, and we are committed to working with them to assist in their transition.”