The NSW Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) has found that expanding the Russell Vale colliery near Wollongong posed an unacceptably ‘high risk’ to Sydney’s water catchment, potentially leading to the loss of 2.6 million litres of water a year.
The PAC last Friday handed down its report on Wollongong Coal’s proposal to develop eight new longwalls, from which it would extract 4.7 million tonnes of coal over five years. The Department of Planning and Environment will now consider the PAC report and make a final recommendation on the project.
In recommending refusal, the PAC report stated that the magnitude of water loss is uncertain with the projected range from the proponent and Water NSW varying from minimal to 2.6GL/year. The Commission considers this is a high risk situation.
The Commission is also of the view that the social and economic benefits of the project as currently proposed are likely outweighed by the magnitude of impacts to the environment.
‘The PAC’s recommendation validates concerns the community has been voicing for many years,’ said Nature Conservation Council CEO Kate Smolski. ‘The Baird government must heed the PAC’s advice and reject this damaging project once and for all.’
Ms Smolski said serious concerns about the impact of further mining in the catchment have been raised by several government agencies, including WaterNSW, the Office of Environment and Heritage, the Department of Primary Industries, and the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development.
The PAC report found the project could lead to the draining of streams feeding drinking water reservoirs and the death of wetlands that are listed as a threatened ecological community, both as a result of subsidence that could crack rock slabs underlying creeks and swamps.
‘According to the Climate Council, water inflows in Sydney’s catchment could decrease by as much as 25 per cent by 2070 if greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current trajectory,’ Ms Smolski said.
‘The NSW government has to get serious about securing our water supplies, which means banning mining and coal seam gas activities in the state’s drinking water catchments.’