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Wallan residents ‘fighting for answers’ after homes flooded in sewage

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Jordyn Grubisic
Jordyn Grubisic
Jordyn Grubisic is a senior journalist for the North Central Review primarily covering politics at all levels and sport with a particular interest in basketball. Since 2019 she has worked for several publications across Victoria including most recently at the Alexandra Standard and Yea Chronicle. She is always keen to hear from local community members about issues they face and has an interest in crime and court reporting.

Being awoken by sewage gurgling up through drains, flooding a home with foul-smelling liquid destroying everything seems unimaginable.

But this was a reality for some Wallan residents on early January 8.

Joel Michael was in Queensland when a phone call from his mother-in-law at 2.30am informed the family of multiple SES calls for assistance in their court.

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“Immediate dread came across us both. [She] attended our house and informed us the house was again under sewage water which was again emanating from the shower drains,” he said.

“We were crushed, knowing what the process was ahead of us.”

Immediately changing flights at significant cost, Mr Michael headed home to ensure cleanup was done to prevent his children returning home to ‘what upset them so much the first time’.

“The smell was horrendous…I spent the rest of the day and night cleaning and calculating the loss of contents, this time Christmas presents were destroyed as well,” he said.

The home previously flooded with sewage October 13, 2022.

“At the time I was at work. My wife and children – then six and seven – were at home,” he said.

“They were panicked not knowing what to do to stop the sewage emanating from the shower. They frantically tried to salvage toys and personal items.”

SES attended the site removing an IS cap at the rear of the property, relieving pressure through the house but destroying the backyard.

Youi insurance covered the first incident classed as a ‘catastrophic incident’ quickly. Reclassification has slowed the process the second time.

The family sought emergency accommodation both times.

Extensive damage and content loss totalled about $100,000 each flood.

“My children really struggled with the constant changes and instability of the situation – their schooling was affected for most of 2023. My daughter has now been diagnosed with anxiety because of the incident. She’s only seven,” Mr Michael said.

Mr Michael thanked Federal Member for McEwen Rob Mitchell for his support.

“He ensured we received emergency funding and was prompt and supportive to our needs,” he said.

Mary* awoke to flooding at 2am on January 8.

“We could just hear gurgling noises and bubbling noises,” she said.

“My partner got up and noticed bubbles coming out of the ensuite toilet and I went to check on my daughter who is afraid of storms.

“As I walked out, I noticed half of my loungeroom, the kitchen, the hallway and the bathroom were flooded.

“It was coming up through the toilet so there was a mixture of stormwater and sewage…there was a little bit of poo and things. It was disgusting.”

Mary was ‘overwhelmed’ and used her wet/dry vacuum and bleach to attempt to decontaminate.

After the 2022 flood a Yarra Valley Water, YVW, assessor visited Mr Michael’s property stating a YVW pump broke under the deluge of rain, agreeing to pay his excess without admitting blame.

The same assessor visited his home on January 8 however stating the pump did not break, placing blame on Mitchell Shire Council citing overflowing stormwater entering the sewer lines as the cause.

Council refuted this to Mr Michael blaming YVW.

YVW acknowledge a broken pump was identified as the cause however said this was inaccurate with no pump failure at the Wallan Treatment Plant site reported during the flood events.

YVW acting general manager of distribution services Natalie Foeng encouraged affected residents to get in contact.

“We’re sorry some residents have experienced wastewater spills as a result of January’s severe wet weather and we’re encouraging anyone who’s been impacted to get in touch,” she said.

“Unfortunately, severe weather events put significant pressure on our sewer system’s capacity, which is not designed to withstand extreme circumstances such as a one in 20-year storm.

“We’re working directly with impacted customers, and we’re planning several upgrade projects to increase the local sewer network’s capacity for higher sewer flows in the longer term.”

After the second flood the YVW loss adjustor offered to pay Mr Michael’s excess and fix backyard damage through a landscaper.

He heard from the landscaper once and never again.

Mr Michael also requested a formal investigation into the problem and information to compliance with a 2014 report.

“I asked what investigation or works they had completed since the first incident to ensure this didn’t happen again and I asked what the cause of the event was at the time,” he said.

“I was met with legal talk and refusal to answer my questions without an approved Freedom of Information application. I just want to know what the issue is so it can be fixed so this doesn’t happen again.

“Our greatest worry now, aside from identifying the issue, is the possibility of diminuition of property value.

“Since the incident I have not slept much, balancing full-time work, family commitments and fighting for answers.

“I feel like I’m going up against City Hall by myself.”

Initially YVW told Mary they would not cover her excess as they were not at fault however after continuous contact and informing YVW about multiple properties flooding, she was told they would review her claim.

She is currently trying to find permanent accommodation for her family of five.

Anyone impacted by sewer overflows can contact YVW on their 24-hour number 13 27 62.

*not her real name

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