Media Releases | 11th Dec, 2020

Fresh concerns over Latrobe Valley mine ‘pit lakes’ in drying climate

The proposal to turn Latrobe Valley coal mines into lakes is unviable under future climate scenarios because there won’t be enough water in the Latrobe River system, according to a new briefing paper from Environment Victoria released today. 

The briefing paper draws together newly released government studies and documents obtained under freedom of information laws to reveal major concerns about water availability, ecological impacts and groundwater pollution at Latrobe Valley mine sites. 

“Filling Hazelwood mine pit would require more water than in Sydney Harbour, and that’s just one mine site in the Valley. The total volume of water needed to turn all the mine pits into lakes is just staggering,” said Environment Victoria Campaigns Manager Dr Nicholas Aberle. 

“The government’s technical studies show that dry climate scenarios, which we are already tracking towards, will put enormous stress on existing water users in the Latrobe River system. Allowing three coal mines to extract billions of litres from this system would be madness. 

“Water from the Latrobe River catchment flows down into the Gippsland Lakes. More freshwater is needed for this important environment – not less. 

“If the mines are filled with water from the river system, that leaves less for native fish, turtles, waterbirds and frogs to breed. The government’s ecological assessment talks of ‘escalating impacts’ and ‘multiple interconnecting threats’.

“These government studies make it clear that mine owners cannot be allowed to take water from the Latrobe River system to create pit lakes.

“Mine operators will need to look at alternative sources of water such as recycled water or desalination, or they might need to change plans and prepare for options that don’t involve water.

“Either way, these alternatives are likely to cost more, so the government should increase the rehabilitation bonds to reflect the true costs. This is the only way to give the Latrobe Valley community confidence that proper rehab work will be done.”

Environment groups have also obtained ‘clean-up notices’ that the EPA issued to Hazelwood’s owner, Engie, in October 2020. These show that a coal ash dam on the floor of Hazelwood mine pit has been polluting groundwater since 2005. 

“The EPA has known about this contamination risk for at least 15 years and appears to have done nothing. All the clean-up notice requires is for Engie to undertake another audit,” said Environmental Justice Australia lawyer Bronya Lipski. 

“This raises serious concerns about a risk to water quality if the pit lake scenario is pursued, and the EPA’s commitment to requiring large polluters to clean up their contamination.” 

“An environmental audit report submitted by Engie in 2020 shows that the power station operator has not complied with any of its licence conditions for land, air and water contamination. Despite the known contamination issues associated with coal ash dumps at Hazelwood, the EPA is not requiring Engie to comprehensively remediate the pollution,” Ms Lipski said. 

“The current legal system is failing the Latrobe Valley community. In order to safeguard community and environmental health associated with contamination at Hazelwood, these ash dumps must be cleaned up, not left to sit at the bottom of a water-filled mine.”

Read the briefing paper 

MEDIA CONTACTS

Greg Foyster, Environment Victoria Media and Content Manager, 0410879031, g.foyster@environmentvictoria.org.au

Dr Nicholas Aberle, Environment Victoria Campaigns Manager, 0402512121, n.aberle@environmentvictoria.org.au

Bronya Lipski, Environmental Justice Australia lawyer, 0427775491, bronya.lipski@envirojustice.org.au