Update on the Anglesea Borefield

Update on the Anglesea Borefield

Friends of the Barwon Committee members were recently briefed, by both Barwon Water and the Friends of the Anglesea River, about issues affecting the Anglesea River and its estuary. In recent times the Anglesea River has experienced prolonged periods with low pH levels, to the detriment of the biodiversity in the waterway. Although the exact cause of this has not been fully settled, the Friends of the Anglesea River suggest a potential cause is an 80% – 90% reduction in flow in Salt Creek over the last 60 years. They claim the reduced flow is evidence of an unacknowledged vertical leakage from the perched aquifer above a cone of depression which underlies the Alcoa mine after 46 years of dewatering pumping.

Alcoa, who ran the coal mine at Anglesea, have plans to pump water from the Upper Eastern View Formation (UEVF) to contribute to the rehabilitation of the mine site. This is being considered in conjunction with the Eden Project. Previously, water was taken from the UEVF to help the cooling process in the associated power station and returned to the Anglesea River. This amounted to 1.6 GL each year. Now the mine and power plant are no longer in use this water is not being returned to the river.

Barwon Water have a Bulk Entitlement for water in the Lower Eastern View Formation (LEVF). The LEVF is separated from the UEVF by the Middle Eastern View Formation that acts as an aquitard between the two aquifers. It was indicated that pumping would only occur as a last resort in the event of serious water resource challenges such as occurred in the Millenium Drought. In these cases, water from the LEVF would be piped to the Wurdee Buloc Reservoir to supplement Geelong’s water supply. The current conditions allow for 40 ML/day and 10 GL/year to be piped with a maximum amount of 35 GL in a period of five years. Unlike the Barwon Downs Borefield which was used during the Millenium Drought, where a volumetric licence was given, the extraction from the LEVF is regulated by DEECA under a bulk entitlement. Extraction will be strictly monitored to ensure there is no adverse effect on the environment from the pumping. The Monitoring and Assessment Program (MAP) will cover aspects like ground water level, ground water quality (salinity, pH, temperature and sulphates), aquatic and terrestrial ecology, stream flows and levels as well as rainfall. This information will be used to assess impacts on both aquifers. Barwon Water is developing a hydrogeological model which will be used by them and Alcoa in their respective applications for pumping rights. Alcoa are obliged to contribute their data to ensure the model is robust.

It is expected given current water storage levels in the region it will be some time before Barwon Water uses the Anglesea Borefield to supplement Geelong’s water supply. Barwon Water is also increasing the reach and capacity of its Melbourne to Geelong Pipeline supply, which will improve short to medium water security for the region.  In the meantime, it was reassuring to see the amount of work being undertaken to ensure the environment is protected and, if changes occur through the Environmental Monitoring Plan, they can be detected before compounding the situation in the river. Hopefully in the interim, headway will be made on the use of recycled water to augment our potable water supplies and the borefield will not be needed. Alcoa is still progressing their licence application to use water from the UEVF to rehabilitate the mine-site but approval is not guaranteed. Barwon Water have offered an alternative solution using A class water from its Black Rock treatment plant. Alcoa have rejected this offer on the basis of costs involved.

By Trevor Hodson, FOTB Chair

Photo: Water monitoring in the Anglesea River. Courtesy of Estuary Watch

Background to Recent Pollution Events on the Yarrowee River

Background to Recent Pollution Events on the Yarrowee River

Image showing brown sludge in the Yarrowee river

Just over two decades the Yarrowee River that rises in Ballarat was little more than an urban drain, receiving stormwater from the town and treated effluent from the Southern Ballarat Water Treatment Plant. Thanks to funding from the State government and many hours of work by volunteers and the local Council, a transformation took place. Litter traps were placed at the storm water discharge points, revegetation works were undertaken, banks were stabilised and walking paths made. It became a place much loved and cared for by the community.

Ballarat is not immune from development and in February 2022, local residents reported episodes of pollution in the Yarrowee River to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The pollution was attributed to a housing development, covering 18-hectares in Brown Hill. In late 2021, vegetation and topsoil were removed from land alongside the Yarrowee River. After rain events, large amounts of sediment entered the river causing increased turbidity leading to reduced available oxygen and sunlight for plants and animals in the river. The decline in water quality had potential long-term implications for the biodiversity of the river.

The EPA has engaged with the developers on numerous occasions to ensure the river is protected and restored. Ultimately the EPA took the developer to the Supreme Court using the provisions of the General Environmental Duty provisions in the Environment Protection Act 2017 to ensure that their orders were complied with. They have also required the developer to remove and dispose of the sediment from the river via the Vista Remediation Plan. This would include measures to reduce the risk of sediment flowing downstream, damaging more of the river, during the remediation.

A local resident who posted his concerns on Facebook was threatened with legal action, as the company suggested the comments were defamatory. The resident has apologised but did incur significant costs. It is not clear if more legal action will follow. In the meantime, a GoFundMe account has been set up to defray his costs. This can be accessed at https://gofund.me/d9ce4756 . So far, the funds raised amount to $2365 and $3500 is the target.

It is something we should all be alert to and support like-minded people who support our aim of making our rivers healthy, especially those of the Barwon. It is all too common for developers to push the boundaries. We now have legislation to protect the environment as well as the landscape. Hopefully the situation in the Yarrowee will improve and residents can enjoy their river once again without the threat of ongoing pollution.

Image: The sludge-filled water of the Yarrowee River (courtesy of ABC Article – Aug 2022) – photo supplied to ABC by Anthony Murphy