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Sydney academic issues warning over lack of water quality data

Sydney’s drinking water catchment is suffering from a serious deficit in water quality sampling sites, according to one co-author of the 2016 audit of the Sydney Water Drinking Catchment.

University of Western Sydney’s Dr Ian Wright said the lack of adequate data poses a significant problem for water quality management in the region, and is a clear indication that more needs to be done to keep water pollution sources in check.

“There is very little we can say in terms of the [2016] catchment audit,” he said.

“We were given data from the only available sampling sites, with the best quality data located about 80 to 100km downstream, where the Coxs River enters the headwaters of Lake Burragorang.

“There was really good quality data there, but it could not discriminate between all the multiple pollution sources within what is a hugely complex area.

“There is a lack of water quality sample sites and I believe this translates to a lack of oversight; if you don't have good water quality monitoring data discriminating between pollution sources, it gives you much weaker intelligence in regards to what’s going on, what the problems are and what you can do about managing those problems.”

Wright recently completed a study into water contamination produced by the decommissioned Berrima coal mine, where he discovered toxic waste leaching into Sydney’s drinking water catchment.

“The example of Berrima coal mine water contamination is bad news, and I think that information should have been coming from WaterNSW because they should have sampling sites above and below,” Wright said.

He said contamination caused by mining sites has resulted in mounting pressure for more to be done about the lack of water quality data available.

“There has been a planning decision approving the extension of the Springvale mine, which discharges wastewater into the upper Coxs River. That has been overturned in the NSW Court of Appeal. The court found that the decision to approve the extension was invalid,” Wright said.

“There are two coal mines side by side: Angus Place, which is currently in care and maintenance, and the Springvale mine. They discharge at multiple locations and they discharge their waste to the upper Coxs River. But there are no WaterNSW sampling sites in that vicinity at all.

“That renders them incapable of making any informed judgement over time of water quality change, and that is a huge problem. The discharges are having a hugely negative and complex chemical impact.”

Although Wright believes drinking water quality in Sydney is world class, he said the lack of available data does not make sense considering the value of drinking water catchments in Australia.

“The quality of the water produced by our utilities is fantastic. We take it for granted. Sydney’s product in terms of quality is world class; that’s not the issue,” Wright said.

“The issue is the growing concern that WaterNSW does not have a good handle on the cumulative impact of coal mining in the catchment, on water yield or water quality.

“Catchments are of incalculable value; every 1000L is worth two dollars. They should have sampling sites all throughout these areas. This problem is of huge concern. I don’t think we are prepared for what is about to hit us in regard to water quality issues, as far as mine closures go.”