Public prevented from commenting on coal mine extension that threatens stunning Sydney catchment waterfall

Published: June 01, 2020

Lock the Gate Alliance and the National Parks Association fear the Berejiklian Government is poised to approve a new coal mine extension that could threaten a stunning 25-metre high waterfall in the Sydney drinking water catchment.

It comes as a coalition of scientists is calling on the Premier  to halt coal mining in Greater Sydney's water catchment.

The extension proposal - in the form of a subsidence management plan (SMP) - is being considered without opening the process to public comment.

Coal mining company South32 is required to gain approval for the SMP before it can start mining Longwall 19 within its underground Dendrobium coal mine.

The mine is located adjacent to Lake Cordeaux and underneath an ecologically significant and endangered swamp (swamp 15a) which feeds Sandy Creek and the beautiful Sandy Creek Waterfall. 

It comes after Peabody Coal’s plan to mine underneath Woronora Dam was approved with no public consultation and before a parliamentary debate triggered by more than 10,000 signatures could be heard. The debate still hasn’t happened due to the closure of the NSW Parliament caused by Covid-19.

LTGA and NPA fear that if Dendrobium Longwall 19 is approved, swamp 15a will be drained, and Sandy Creek and its waterfall could dry up. 

The 2001 approval for mining in the area specifically requires South32 to “ensure that subsidence does not cause … changes in ecosystem functionality of Swamp 15a.

Lock the Gate NSW spokesperson Nic Clyde said, “Based on the damage that’s occurred so far to endangered swamps due to this mine, it’s clear the only way to protect the swamp is for there to be no mining near it.

“There is no public consultation process required in response to South32’s submission. Planning Minister Rob Stokes may be about to sign a death warrant for the Sandy Creek Waterfall and the precious and ecologically significant swamp which feeds it. The public is being kept in the dark. 

“Aggressive longwall mining has already caused extensive damage to the water catchment with at least three billion litres per annum disappearing and swamps and creeks routinely undermined.

“Without a public consultation process for this longwall, the public can have no confidence that extensive damage in the past will not be repeated above Longwall 19, and result in the Sandy Creek Waterfall’s death.”

National Parks Association spokesperson Julie Sheppard said, “South 32 likes to brag about how the Sandy Creek waterfall has been protected from mining impacts in the past but these protections have only been for its underlying rock structure. 

“Undermining of the swamps which feed Sandy Creek will result in no water to make a waterfall.”

Swamp 15a is the last large swamp inside Dendrobium’s lease which has not been impacted to date by mining. 

In 2016, WaterNSW strongly objected to South32’s plan to extract Longwalls 14 to 18, saying that “the risks of the proposal to the Sydney water supply and the Sydney catchment area are unacceptable”.

A March 2019 submission from WaterNSW to the Independent Expert Panel for Mining in the Catchment found that damage to Swamp 15b - which neighbours Swamp 15a - was “greater than predicted” and that “even after five years there is no reported re-emergence of water downstream of these valley in-fill swamps”.

It also said “no further approvals should be given for mining that would permit the level of environmental impacts and consequences that have occurred in Wongawilli Creek, WC21, and Swamps 1a, 1b and 5 at Dendrobium.” 

The NSW Government is yet to formally respond to the Independent Expert Panel for Mining in the Catchment’s report, beyond a simple press release.

Background:

In March 2019, WaterNSW said: 

There is now strong evidence that the environmental consequences from mining in the Special Areas are greater than predicted when the mining was proposed and approved. Importantly, some of these environmental consequences have caused (or are likely to cause) breaches of conditions in the relevant development consents, including performance criteria to protect watercourses and Sydney’s drinking water catchment.

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Content on this site is authorised by Georgina Woods for Lock the Gate Alliance, Lismore NSW.