When the NSW Parliament sat for the first time since the March election, Member for Wyong, David Harris, called for “a referendum of people on the Central Coast to ask them whether they want recycled mining water, which cannot be proven to be non-toxic, put into their water supply”.
Harris said one of the conditions of approval for Wallarah 2 Coal Mine by the Berejiklian Liberal Government was that the mine should recycle water collected in the coal mine and return it to the drinking water catchment to compensate for lost water due to mining.
“If there’s any risk to our community’s health, it’s not good enough.
“Words on a page won’t protect us,” he said.
“Emma McBride (Federal Member for Dobell) and Anne Charlton (Federal candidate for Robertson) have raised concerns but Liberal Members and candidates are silent.
“It’s time our community ceased being treated this way by the Liberal government,” Harris said.
He ran a snap poll on his Facebook page asking the community: “Do you think Central Coast residents should be asked through a referendum if they want recycled water from a coal mine returned to our drinking water?” 94% responded Yes we should be asked and six percent said no we shouldn’t be asked.
Harris put up a Private Member’s Bill in State Parliament on May 7, calling for the referendum.
“I speak again about an issue I have raised in this place since 2007, the proposed Wallarah 2 coal mine,” he said
“Following a series of investigations, it is now in the hands of the Minister to issue the final licence once certain conditions are met.
“I continue to be very concerned about not only water loss from the catchment affecting the drinking water supply to 320,000 people on the Central Coast, but also one of the conditions set as part of the process.
“I refer to condition 17, which is headed Central Coast Water Supply Compensatory Arrangement.
“The NSW Planning Assessment Commission recognised that there would be some water loss from the catchment and, in order to compensate for that loss, it put in place a condition that says “…. mine water treated to an
appropriate level” can be released back into the Central Coast water supply.
“Further, the condition states that after 10 years, the discharge of at least 300 megalitres per annum of treated water can be made “directly into the Central Coast Water Supply system at a location mutually agreed with Council”.
“The first issue I have is that the requirement does not come into force until 10 years after mining has started, which I suggest will be too late if there are any problems.
“The second issue is how the condition for water to be “treated to an appropriate level” will be enforced.
“In an email sent to me and to the Federal Member for Dobell, Emma McBride, the General Manager of Wyong Coal Pty Limited, Peter Allonby, stated: ‘You regularly comment negatively on water from Wallarah 2 being put into the Central Coast drinking water supply. This idea is neither new nor unique’.
Mr Harris went on to say that the email contained a link to a video that referred to the Clarence Colliery, which supplies water to Lithgow City Council’s drinking water supply.
“I did some research and, instead of allaying my fears, I have more concerns and I ask the new Minister to look carefully at this issue.
“The Environment Protection Authority [EPA] has conducted a five-year review of environmental protection licence No. 726 held by Clarence Colliery.
“The EPA report states that “Clarence Colliery LDP002 introduces a high volume, point source of pollution to the Upper Wollangambe River”.
“The report’s analysis details the pollution in the water system, stating: ‘… the discharge waters exhibited acute and chronic toxicity to the freshwater cladoceran Ceriodaphnia dubia at a variety of dilutions.
“’It also caused significant inhibitory effects on growth of the freshwater green alga …’
“It states that the water has potential to induce toxic effects and reproductive impairment in sensitive invertebrates et cetera.
“In effect, the EPA report says that the government has put in place a condition while knowing that processes in the area are causing problems.
“I ask that the Premier, the Government and the Minister, if they really care about this issue, instead of coming up with conditions that cannot be enforced, and we know the EPA is taking Clarence Colliery to court over breaches of its licence, to consider conducting a referendum of people on the Central Coast to ask them whether they want recycled mining water which cannot be proven to be non-toxic, put into their water supply.”
Australian Coal Alliance (ACA) executive, Alan Hayes, said the ACA supported David Harris and the referendum.
“It’s unbelievable that a mining company can put at risk a major water supply and that we have a government that is prepared to let it happen,” he said.
“The crux of the matter is that 68 percent of the water from this catchment supplies drinking water to the whole Central Coast.
“Subsidence from this mine, and there will be some, means the water will leach into the coal seam and become highly polluted.”
Hayes said Wyong Coal, owned by Korean mining company, KORES, claimed they could treat polluted water and return it to the drinking water catchment.
He said ACA had scientific evidence that even though the water would be less toxic, it could not be treated to the level of being suitable for human consumption and to meet the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.
NSW Parliament Hansard, May 7
Private Member’s Statement by David Harris
Website, Apr 9, May 8
David Harris MP
Interview, May 13
Australian Coal Alliance Executive, Alan Hayes