Oral Presentation 9th Australian Stream Management Conference 2018

Community triggers EPA action to address river water pollution caused by inflow of coal mine waste water  (#96)

Benjamin Green 1 , Nakia Belmer 1 , Rani Carroll 1 , Katherine Morrison 1 , Ian Wright 1
  1. School of Science , Western Sydney University, Penrith, NSW, Australia

In 2012 the upper Georges River was heavily polluted due to coal mine wastewater inflows from the Westcliff Colliery. The wastewater discharge accounted for >90% of the upper Georges River flow. A local community group felt so strongly about the pollution that it launched legal action against the mine. Evidence for the court case showed pollution involved elevated salinity, pH and a suite of metals (zinc, nickel, copper and aluminium) at concentrations higher than recommended in the ANZECC guidelines. The pollution plume extended at least 12 km downstream. Macroinvertebrate samples were collected and confirmed that the river ecology was adversely affected by the coal mine wastes. The EPA licence that authorised the waste discharge did not provide limits for any of the key pollutants. On the day that the court papers were issued the NSW Environment Minister intervened in the case and publicly demanded action from the EPA to stop the pollution. In 2013 the EPA issued the mine with a revised licence. It provided new limits on the discharge of key pollutants present in the wastes, including salinity, pH and numerous metals. In 2018 the water quality of the Georges River has improved as a result of the new EPA licence and subsequent improvements in the treatment of the mine wastewater. This case study demonstrates the importance of local community’s engagement and participation in river management. It also reflects a growing cooperation between the EPA, the coal mine and the community with the shared objective of helping a sick river recover.  

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