Mine Breaks Waterfall and the River Runs Green
The media release can be downloaded from the link at the bottom of this page. Photos are appended below.
Representatives from several community environmental groups visited the Waratah Rivulet yesterday September 25 to see first-hand the latest impacts longwall mining has had on this important waterway. The second of the new longwalls of the Metropolitan Colliery expansion project is nearing completion, having passed under the Waratah Rivulet earlier this year.
Supplying more water than the Woronora River, during periods of good rainfall the Waratah Rivulet provides 30% of the inflow to the Woronora Reservoir and during dry times it supplies up to 50% of the water - its importance increases during times of drought - it needs protecting. The Woronora Dam supplies water to Southern Sydney and parts of the Northern Illawarra.
The group was surprised and shocked to see the water of the Waratah Rivulet was a strangely cloudy and distinctly green colour, with bright orange-red edges, pools and seeps.
“It’s like something from another world, or a science fiction movie - it’s hard to believe this was once a pristine water way” said Peter Turner spokesperson for the Northern Illawarra Sustainability Alliance.
"The water is the colour of pea soup - in this case we could say Peabody soup," quipped Julie Sheppard from the National Parks Association, in reference to the mine's owner, Peabody Energy. "On a serious note, this is totally unacceptable damage to any waterway, let alone one which is part of Sydney's drinking water catchment."
The colour is the result of the leaching out of iron compounds from the fracture surfaces of bedrock broken by subsidence caused by longwall mining. The break-up of the bedrock diverts water from the surface into a tortuous subsurface fracture network through which the water travels, leaching out iron and other minerals. Water that returns to the surface down-stream emerges cloudy and coloured. Iron levels going into the Woronora exceeded the mine’s own water quality performance indicators for two months in 2011.
"This latest damage is more proof, if any was needed, that Barry O'Farrell must urgently act on his promise to keep mining and water supply catchments separated. It's perverse that Peabody is right when they say the damage was predicted. It's the NSW Government who allows this to continue." said Dave Burgess from the Total Environment Centre.
The unnatural colour reflects the accumulation of subsidence impacts dating back to at least 2004-5, when a two km section of the Waratah Rivulet was badly damaged by subsidence from longwall coal mining at the Metropolitan Colliery. The leached minerals include iron pyrite, a contributor to acid mine drainage.
"The community needs to be made aware that their drinking water is being sacrificed, spoilt and lost, for the sake of short term commercial gains associated with coal extraction" said Sharyn Cullis of the Georges River Environmental Alliance. "Historically, the Woronora catchment was protected so that we could drink natural water supplied by pristine stream sources. In the future our collective ignorance and apathy about what is happening will mean we will pay dearly to drink desalinated sea water instead!"
The new longwall, longwall 21, has added to the accumulating damage and has made its own mark by damaging what was a beautiful waterfall, not far from a tranquil gorge as yet unharmed by mining. With new subsidence cracks in the riverbed above, above, the face of the waterfall has fractured and partly fallen away.
What appears to be gas intermittently breaks through at the edge of the murky green water, below the broken waterfall:
The mine is daily damaging what was once pristine bushland behind the closed doors of the Woronora Special Area - an area where the public faces fines of up to $44,000 for unauthorised access.
“How can mining royalties justify this, how can a desalination plant replace this?” asked Peter Turner from the Northern Illawarra Sustainability Alliance. “Mining should be banned from drinking water catchments - the Premier should honour his promises and commitments”
At a public rally before the last election the Premier of NSW stated that the next Liberal and National Government would “... ensure mining cannot occur in any water catchment area and that any mining leases and exploration permits will reflect that common sense. No ifs, no buts, a guarantee.”
On December 1, 2011 the Premier told 2GB’s Alan Jones: “I don’t intend to allow — particularly after the drought we went through over a decade — mining or any other activity to threaten water resources.”
Photos - higher resolution photos available on request
More photos here:
Turbid green iron containing river water lined with orange-red bacterially-mediated iron mats
The face of a once beautiful waterfall has fractured and partly fallen away as a result of subsidence impacts.
Crack in the riverbed above the broken waterfall
Green water below the broken water fall
The waterfall in December 2011 - before longwall 21 was mined
The waterfall in March 2011 - before longwall 21 was mined
Large broken riverbed fragments in a section of the Waratah Rivulet damaged by earlier longwall mining in 2004-5. Photo September 25 2012
No flowing water downstream from a remediated rock-bar in a section of the Waratah Rivulet damaged by longwall mining in 2004-5. Photo September 25 2012