Oyster farmer James Ford said the weak point was East St, Macksville

As we all come to terms with the evolving reality which is life in the midst of a pandemic, spare a thought for our Nambucca River oyster farmers, who were already in financial limbo following sewage spills which shut the river for harvesting.

According to a NSW Food Authority spokesperson, there have been three sewage spills reported so far this year: one in Macksville (East St) on February 10 and again on February 24 with a third in Nambucca Heads on March 14.

"There are three harvest areas located in the Nambucca River (Upper Nambucca, Middle Nambucca and Lower Nambucca) and all three were closed due to rainfall on February 7," the spokesperson said.

"A 21-day closure was enacted for all three harvest areas following the first two spills, this closure period was due to end on March 16 but the third spill extended that to April 4 for Lower Nambucca only."

By law Nambucca Valley Council is required to report sewage spills to Department of Primary Industries to allow the associated food safety risks to be managed. NSW Food Authority then liaises with the council to obtain the information required to effectively manage the food safety risks.

Oyster farmer James Ford said the weak point in the shire's sewage system was East St, Macksville, which was well-known as an overflow point in times of high rainfall.

"It is like a pressure release valve there and the council seems to have no intention of fixing it, yet here we are time and again missing harvesting windows because we have to stop for 21-days whenever there is a spill," James said.

"We are at our wits end with this."

Nambucca Valley Council's Manager Water and Sewerage, Richard Spain, said heavy rains overloaded the shire's system and East St was the low point were it overflowed.

"We are very aware of the issue and are currently working on a report to the Environmental Protection Authority to see what we can do to manage the problem," Mr Spain said.

"While the council's infrastructure meets the standards required for a shire of this size, there are many places where extra water flows into the system. We have to track all of them down, which is a lot of work and requires manpower."

He said an additional staff member had been included in the structure for exactly that type of work.

"It will not be easy but we will start making inroads into it. The relining of pipes in the TillyWilly area has helped but this peak flow is still a problem."

The NSW Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) regulates reticulated sewage systems under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997. Under this legislation the EPA may impose pollution reduction programs.

But even as the farmers emerge from this latest closure in time for the Easter rush, the world around them is shutting down due to the coronavirus.

Restaurants are being forced to close their doors and accommodation houses are receiving cancellations daily and processing the return of deposits.

Although the virus is not foodborne, it's effects are being felt throughout the food chain.

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