News | 3rd Oct, 2012

Power needs muddy the water for farmers

Wednesday, 3 October 2012
Vince Chadwick and Adam Morton, The Age

FARMING and green groups have expressed concern about the ''dirty, muddy, yellow'' state of a Victorian river after one of Australia's largest open-cut coalmines was given emergency approval to dump floodwater into it.

The Yallourn coalmine, in the Latrobe Valley, continues to hold about 40 billion litres of water after the collapse of an artificial bank of the Morwell River on June 6.

As the mine filled and concerns mounted about the flood's impact on the connected power station, mine operator TRUenergy was granted emergency approval by the Environment Protection Authority to pump flood waters out of the mine into the neighbouring Latrobe River.

The authority yesterday said a risk assessment of the emergency pumping by consultants Sinclair Knight Merz found the floodwaters posed only a low environmental risk to the river and the connected Gippsland Lakes, but the situation was ''serious and requires ongoing supervision''.

The authority is considering whether to grant TRUenergy emergency approval to pump water from the mine into the river for another four months.

Tom Wallace, a local grazier and chairman of a Latrobe River irrigators advisory committee, said he was concerned about the impact on local produce. He said he had not seen the water look as dirty in 60 years of irrigation.

''We have not used the water yet, so we don't know, but it's got to be a concern,'' the 76-year-old said.

''They are saying, if they are not allowed to pump water out, it will affect power supply, which would affect more people than the irrigators. But we also have a concern in terms of producing food for the community. It's a different colour completely to what it was – it's a dirty, muddy, yellow.''

EPA Gippsland manager Dieter Melzer said test results showed that the quality of the water discharged from the mine fell within required standards…

…But Environment Victoria campaigns director Mark Wakeham said the EPA had confirmed turbidity in the river had increased.

It would reduce river oxygen levels and could have an impact on aquatic life, he said.

''If there is another emergency discharge allowed, it will have been eight months during which the normal environmental standards for water released into the river will not have applied, which is extraordinary really,'' he said.

Mr Wakeham said the EPA had limited options because the government had decided the priority was keeping the power station operating. It produces enough electricity to meet 22 per cent of the state's needs.


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