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Werribee farmer takes legal action against Southern Rural Water

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A vegetable farmer from Werribee South is taking legal action against state water authority, Southern Rural Water, after poor drainage led to the loss of more than $100,000 in stock in February this year.

Slater and Gordon lawyers intend to lodge a claim in the Victorian Civil Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) on behalf of Werribee South farmer Tom Patsuris, against Southern Rural Water.

Slater and Gordon lawyer Robert Auricchio said Mr Patsuris’ property, which had lettuce, cauliflower and cabbages planted, sustained severe water damage after heavy rain in February this year.

He said that while other neighbouring farming properties on Duncans Road were unaffected, Mr Patsuris’ property was damaged because of its location across the road from a newly built bridge and culvert.

“Southern Rural Water was the authority that approved the design specifications for the bridge and drainage that was built across from Mr Patsuris’ property,” Mr Auricchio said.

Mr Auricchio said that the culvert across from Mr Patsuris’ property was built with a width of 750mm, whereas drains nearby had been built with a width of about 900mm. 

“The water authority should never have approved the 750mm drainage size. Other culverts downstream and upstream in the area were built with a bigger width size than 750mm.

“When the severe storms in February caused a bank-up of water, only a small amount of water was able to flow through and it eventually became blocked.

“The bank-up of water ended up on Mr Patsuris’ property and he had his plantations destroyed and at least one third of his income destroyed through no fault of his own.”

Mr Auricchio said that instead of acknowledging its responsibilities, Southern Rural Water had denied liability and was pursuing Mr Patsuris for a water bill.  A defence for this claim was filed in the Magistrates Court yesterday.

“We have filed a defence for the unpaid water bill, seeking a stay of proceedings and we intend to file a claim with VCAT.  We will be claiming that Southern Rural Water failed in its responsibilities when it approved the bridge and culvert near Mr Patsuris’ property.”

Mr Patsuris, whose family has lived in the area for nearly 70 years said he had been struggling financially and could not pay creditors, many of whom had understood his predicament - except Southern Rural Water.

“The water drowned my stock leaving it unsaleable. It was just devastating to find that all of my hard work was damaged by excess water and mud while neighbouring properties were fine.”

“We are proud of our history as Werribee farmers. My grand uncle was one of the first farmers in this area. We have never experienced anything like this before.”

Mr Auricchio said the bridge was built privately, by Mr Patsuris’ sister, who had sought advice from independent engineers and authorisation for the bridge and culvert specifications from Southern Rural Water.