Protecting Wilderness and National Parks

The Wild Wollangambe River needs rescue... clean up too slow and ineffective

Despite assurances that good progress has been made with the clean up and that 163 wet tonnes of of coal fines have been removed from 4.3km of the Wollangambe River (EPA media release 2-12-2015) there is still a lot of river covered in coal fines. Clean up has continued beyond the 15 September deadline for the Second Clean-up Notice, due to concentrations coal fines extending downstream for 8 kilometres from 'spill gully'.

There is STILL at least 1.5 kilometres of river bed covered to a depth of 10cm with coal fines. It is now FOUR MONTHS after the spill event and there are many tonnes of coal waste to remove from the river. This is a wild river, in a World Heritage listed national park! The regulators and the mining company are moving too slowly to restore the river to health. The only credit that can be given is that the mining company and the EPA are still working on the clean up, but their efforts have been greatly under resourced.

Every single day is another day that risks a major storm event where the coal fines now in the river are sent further down into the Wollangambe Canyon, the most popular canyon in Australia, visited by thousands each year. Centennial and the EPA risk ruining and making unsafe that canyon with black coal fines muck. All it would take is just one major thunder storm to wreck the canyon.

On July 2 a waste heap collapsed sending coal fines into the Wollangambe River where they remained for more than five weeks without any effort at a clean up. Finally, the coal fines began to be removed from the river on Saturday August 8, 2015. 

An 18 August, 2015 EPA Clean Up Notice has been issued to Centennial Coal. It contains a partial explanation of what has happened to the spill of coal fines since July 2. In the Notice, it is claimed that Centennial Coal could not clean up the river immediately as it needed to research the exent of the coal fines in the Wollangambe River, as well as recovery methods. The net result of this decision was a long delay agreed to by the EPA and then trials of basic clean up efforts mainly by hand in the World Heitage Area, which are now on-going. This response will be further investigated by the Gardens of Stone Alliance to ensure as event like this never happens again and emergency clean up responses can be prompt, particularly in environmentally sensitive areas. 

This new Clean Up Notice updates the EPA released a Fact Sheet circulated at a Public Forum on the Clarence Coal Mine and its impact on the Wollangambe on Friday the 24th July 2015 Kurrajong CWA Hall -  where researchers Dr Ian Wright and Nakia Belmer, EPA representatives Dr Richard Whyte, Gary Whytcross and Mark Gifford, and NPWS representatives Richard Kingswood and Alan Henderson addressed the meeting.

Key points:

  • The new Clean Up Notice replaces the July 3 Clean Up Notice issued by EPA that originallydirected  Centennial Coal to remove coal material from the stream by July 7; 
  • Legal and other investigations have continued;
  • The spill was successfully contained but the jury is still out whether the belated river clean up will be a success;
  • Discharges of coal fines ceased 24 July, 2015;
  • Till August 8, Centennial Coal's clean up has focused on the mine site and gully leading to the Wollangambe River;
  • The 22 silt fences installed since July 3 in the gully have contained and facilitated the clean up and removal of coal fines in 'spill gully';
  • Coal fines still blanket a reach of the Wollangambe River 1 to 8 kilometres downstream from the mine;
  • The amount of coal fines discharged to the river is unknown;
  • The 19Ml/day of toxic mine effluent discharged by the mine for the last 30 years has severely affected the river (see below - links to research papers below by the Uni of Western Sydney and Office of Envt. and Heritage);
  • If these toxic discharges were to cease, the river would quickly recover;
  • One option under serious consideration is the transfer of the Clarence Colliery's effluent to the Springvale mine.

Take Action - could you please write either to the editor of the Herald newspaper <letters@smh.com.au>, your local paper or the Premier of NSW, the Hon Mike Baird <https://www.nsw.gov.au/your…/contact-premier-new-south-wales>. Such letters are influential in bringing about change. 

Suggestions for polite letters responding to the disastrous spill into the 'Gambe and also to stop the even more damaging mine effluent pollution entering the Coxs River covered in this SMH story by Peter Hannam: 
 
1/  Centennial Coal must be required to fully restore the wild Wollangambe River that was injured a spill of coal fines earlier this month in accordance with the new clean up notice issued 18 August, 2015.
2/ No Development Consent should be granted to Springvale Mine till the mine's saline effluent is treated to a natural background level for the Coxs River of 30EC so as to restore this river to health.
3/ All toxic metals and salts must removed from the mine effluent emitted by Centennial Coal's Springvale and Clarence mines, as the Coxs and Wollangambe Rivers flow through the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.
4/ The NSW Government must take effective action to ensure Centennial Coal stops polluting the World Heritage Area. The Springvale Mine has had at least 907 licence non-compliance matters since 2000 to 2013 and the Clarence mine at least 85 licence non-compliance matters for the same period - this on-going level of environmental abuse is unacceptable.
6/ The government must act to stop Springvale Mine causing harm to the Coxs River and require the Clarence Mine clean up and restore the Wollangambe River to a prinstine state.
 

A beautiful river, ruined by mine discharges. The pollution has to stop and the river allowed to recover.

A Wild River

The Wollangambe passes through rugged gorges of the Blue Mountains and Wollemi National parks. The river has long been popular with explorers, canyoners and bushwalkers. The river is relatively close to the major metropolitan area of Sydney, providing an experience of wild terrain available in few other places. 

The rivers and creeks in this area typically have a wide range animal and plant life. Beautiful ferns  draping from clfflines and red and blue yabbies escaping backwards from toes, or standing their ground if they are big enough. Platypus used to even be seen in the Wollangambe.

Below, a young woman meets a platypus on the 'Gambe - 

Platypus in the Wollangambe

 

Mine Water Discharges

For a number of years Centennial Coal has been dumping mine effluent into the Wolangambe River from it's Clarence Colliery. Independent university research have reveals the impact that the discharges are having on the once pristine river. The results of the peer reviewed paper were disturbing and the Office of Environment and Heritage has confirmed the damage caused by the mine effluent. The Wollangambe was essentially dead for 15 kilometres downstream of the discharge point when compared to unaffected tributaries or the river upstream from the coal mine. Most macro-invertebrates were gone, salinity was up, temperature was up and there were 'potentially lethal' levels of heavy metals such as Nickel. 

The situation for the Coxs River is far more dire. The research on the Coxs River has not been done, but the Springvale Mine's effluent is THREE TIMES as saline as that being emitted by the Clarence Mine, so the impacts are more and could possibly harm the quality Sydney's drinking water supplies over the longer term. Of course Centennial Coal denies it all, as it always does, and so it is left to others to work out how to clean up, and this is exactly what the Colong Foundation for Wilderness aims to do.

Water Dragon

Centennial Coal Accident

In July 2015 a waste heap collapsed in dry weather sending tonnes of coal waste down the Wollangambe River.

Waste heap collapse

The results of the spill in the canyon
Polluted River

Before the damage
Canyon

"Went to 8.5km point (494E on map) in the river today. There is still black on a lot of rocks in the water, but not as bad as a couple of km upstream."

Black on rocks 8.5km downstream

 

Remediation Works

The extent of the damage. 

Map of the extent of damage

Cetnennial Coal responding to the EPA's clean up notice, hosed the coal waste from the hillsides into this gully, and perhaps more coal fines flowed into the Wollangambe River ... 

barrier.

The difference between the pristine side creek and the Wollangambe River are 'black and white'...

Cleanup

As at the beginning of August (4 weeks in) no serious clean up of the river had been undertaken. Volunteers travelled out to the Wollangambe river to do some 'test cleanup'. Some caution is being used to ensure that the problem is not made worse. Meanwhile, the mess is spread further downstream.

Hand with black muck

Junction of a side creek and the Wollangambe River. This is the boundary point between the black mess and pristine side creek.

Clean and not clean creeks

SBS program on Centennial Coal Mine Spill.