The committee appointed by Minister Robyn Parker in 2011 to run an inquiry into the drying up of the Thirlmere Lakes held a public meeting at Thirlmere School last night, to outline its draft report, released last week and available online: http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/water/ThirlmereLakesInquiry.htm.
The committee is now calling for comments on the draft before submitting its final report.
The main spokesperson and committee chair is Dr Steven Riley. Only Riley and two others from the committee of five were present to take questions from the community last night.
Rivers SOS , who have lobbbied for over a year for an inquiry to take place, made our disappointment in the committee’s draft report clear.
Public inquiries involve a significant investment of public resources, therefore the public is entitled to expect an outcome which will guide policy in future. The terms of reference requested the committee to provide recommendations to address “the factors identified as likely to have a direct or indirect effect on lake levels.”
The committee failed to do this, in keeping with its reluctance to allocate blame to mine impacts on the lakes’ groundwater regime. Last night committee members strenuously denied repeated input from community members, including ex-miners and a family who lived on the lakes for generations, who challenged the finding that mining had little part to play, though the drying of the lakes began soon after a series of longwall mines went within 700m of the lakes.
Members of Rivers SOS asked the committee to add some policy advice to their recommendations. We noted that their recommendations are for further research, and for remediation possibilities. But this fails to guide government policy regarding mine impacts, when assessing mining applications.
The extent of mine impacts on the water loss, versus the drought, may be 10%, 20% or 40% – an exact figure can’t be arrived at due to incomplete knowledge. But the draft report does on rare occasions touch on what the community and other scientists believe, i.e. that mining has contributed to the problem.
This calls for a recommendation for protection in future for sensitive and valuable sites, e.g. by suggesting adequate buffer zones or concurring with the risk management suggestions put forward in the 2008 South Coalfield Inquiry Report, concerning reverse onus of proof etc.
The fact that the committee is examining the loss of a priceless asset in a World Heritage area surely calls for focus on the need for conservation of other valuable assets where mine plans are proposed. If a lesson has not been learned in this case, the Inquiry will have been a waste of money and time.
We hope this lack is addressed in the committee’s final report.
We can provide contacts with many of those who spoke at the meeting, and with other scientists who have researched the issue, and further links to reports on the lakes.