Media Release: VICTORIAN ENVIRONMENT MINISTER FAILS TO PROTECT ENDANGERED GREATER GLIDERS NEAR BAIRNSDALE

“Gippsland Environment Group (GEG) is alarmed at the failure of the Minister for the Environment Lily D’Ambrosio and DELWP to prevent the destruction of Greater Gliders and critical habitat in the foothills north-west of Bairnsdale despite knowing of their presence for over a year…”

Download the full media release here:

GEG media 23.10.18 Environment Minister fails to protect endangered Greater gliders near Bairnsdale  (PDF format)


Images of the Stoney Creek Rd coupe

Media Release: NEW LICENCE TO EXPAND OLD TAILINGS DAM THREATENS TAMBO RIVER – 1 August 2018

“Gippsland Environment Group has condemned the Victorian Government’s decision to grant a mining infrastructure licence to WHSP Stockman Pty Ltd to reopen and expand the old Benambra mine tailings storage facility located on the headwaters of the Tambo River.”

Click here to see the full media release (PDF format)
GEG media re Stockman tailings dam licence approval 1.8.2018

Media release – 16th March 2018 – Mining licence application on Tambo River must be rejected

Friday 16th March 2018

Mining licence application to expand dangerous tailings dam on Tambo River must be rejected.

Gippsland Environment Group recently organised a site visit to the Benambra mine tailings dam on the headwaters of the Tambo River to discuss mining company CopperChem’s proposal to re-open and massively expand the dam. The visit raised considerable alarm among all who attended.

Members of local Landcare Groups, Victorian National Parks Association, Gippsland Environment Group, Environment East Gippsland and other interested locals travelled to the Stockman Project east of Benambra to inspect the tailings dam. Staff from Earth Resources (Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources) and Copperchem   the mining company that has applied for a licence to expand the tailings dam, were also present to answer questions.

The original Benambra copper and zinc mine was operated by Denehurst Pty Ltd from 1992 until 1996. In 1998 the company went into receivership and abandoned the site forfeiting their mine rehabilitation bond of $375,000. Denehurst left behind an unstable tailings dam containing 700,000 tonnes of toxic tailings leaking acid and heavy metals into Straight Creek which runs into the Tambo River. The tailings dam had been constructed right across the waterway over a series of groundwater springs and had been built without a spillway. Between 1999 and 2005 the EPA authorised DPI to make emergency releases of 160 megalitres of contaminated water to reduce the risk of the dam wall overtopping and undermining the dam foundations.

In 2006 DPI rehabilitated the mine site and tailings dam at a cost of $7 million to the taxpayer. In the process of remediating the tailings dam and constructing a spillway another 140 megalitres of tailings dam water was released into the waterway. The dam operates as a flow through system spilling into Straight Creek as inflows from the catchment raise the water level over the tailings. The dam water was to the mouth of the spillway at the time of the site visit.

The original tailings dam was constructed from rockfill with a concrete grout curtain at the base which has a lifespan of between two and eighty years. Due to a shortage of local clay the dam wall was lined with a geomembrane that has a lifespan of possibly another thirty years. It is impossible to replace either the concrete grout curtain or the liner as they are on the upstream side of the dam wall. An additional HDPE liner was attached to the old one when DPI raised the height of the wall in 2006. This join was inadequate, and potentially acid forming (PAF) rock was used in the embankment. The dam is currently leaking from beneath the toe of the dam at a rate of approx 86,000 litres/day.

Community members were shocked to learn that the enlarged dam will be built on top of this unstable foundation and that before work begins another three metres of contaminated water will have to be released from the tailings dam.

CopperChem plans to raise the existing dam wall another 25 metres in a series of staged lifts up to a total of 45 metres above the valley floor, which will increase the surface area from approx 7 ha to 32 has. Each raise will exacerbate the stability risks and increase the head pressure on seepage already flowing from below the dam wall.  HDPE plastic liners will be used on the inside of the wall to contain the toxic tailings and polluted water. These liners have a lifespan of only 100-200 years.  HDPE liners are a short-term method of dam design that does not address the long-term management requirements of such a toxic storage facility. The tailings must also remain covered with at least two metres of water forever to prevent an acid change reaction occurring. The impact of climate change on the dam water level over the next thousand years is impossible to calculate.

In December 2017 CopperChem signed a post-closure trust fund deed with the State Government to fund management of the tailings dam in perpetuity after mining ceases. The company is required to lodge a bank guarantee of only $5.7million before work begins. The post-closure trust fund does not cover residual risk and does not include any costing for the remediation of the dam wall when the HDPE liners fail or in the event of catastrophic dam failure. The company will contribute $1million towards insurance against environmental or property damage. It is not clear what amount taxpayers will also contribute.

The original Benambra mine paid no royalties during the period of operations and cost the State Government a total of $13million in financial support for the mine and rehabilitation costs after it was abandoned. Following remediation in 2006 the tailings storage facility was renamed Lake St Barbara and exempted from any future mining operations.

Earth Resources representatives on site were unable to explain why that exemption was recently revoked by Resources Minister Tim Pallas. The groups were united in their concern that any proposal to reopen and expand the tailings dam was foolhardy in the extreme and would jeopardise the health of Tambo River and Gippsland Lakes forever.

As the site visit concluded the consensus of all community members present was that the Minister for Resources Tim Pallas must reject Copperchem’s application for a mining infrastructure licence over the tailings dam.

Objections to the mining infrastructure licence application by CopperChem’s parent company WHSP Stockman Pty Ltd (Licence app no. MIN006642) may be lodged on-line at  https://rram.force.com/ObjectionSubmission by April 4th.

Louise Crisp
Secretary
Gippsland Environment Group

Further reading: GEG Inc objection to MIN006642, 5 March 2018


tailings dam _Panorama1 tailings dam site visit 28.2.18 tailings dam spillway & person walking 28.2.18

Photo credit: Lisa Roberts

Tambo River Toxic Threat (21 February 2018)

East Gippsland’s beautiful Tambo River, and the Gippsland Lakes, are threatened by highly toxic waste from an unstable tailings dam.

A proposal by mining company Copperchem to re-open the old ‘Stockman’ copper and zinc mine at the headwaters of the Tambo means extending an already failing earthen dam to the height of the highest stand at the MCG!

The tailings dam wall is meant to last for at least 10,000 years, but the thin membrane keeping the dam intact only has a lifespan of around 100-200 years, and it has been leaking ever since the old mine closed in 1996.

Please tell Earth Resources Victoria that the licence to extend the failing tailings dam should not be granted because:

  • Reports show that much information on the performance of the dam is either missing or inadequate
  • Extending the 8 hectare area of the already leaking toxic tailings dam to around 32 hectare puts the Tambo River and the Gippsland lakes at an unacceptable risk
  • There is no bond adequate to guarantee the security of the dam when the mine closes again.

Send a message outlining your concerns to:

Manager Earth Resources Tenements
DEDJTR
GPO Box 2392, Melbourne 3001
by 5 March, quoting licence number MIN 6642

Source:
https://vnpa.org.au/tambo-river-toxic-threat/

Media Release: THE STATE GOVERNMENT’S MURKY DEAL ON BENAMBRA MINE TAILINGS DAM THREATENS TAMBO RIVER

MEDIA RELEASE – 20 December 2017

THE STATE GOVERNMENT’S MURKY DEAL ON BENAMBRA MINE TAILINGS DAM THREATENS TAMBO RIVER

Gippsland Environment Group has condemned the Victorian Government’s decision to lift the mining licence exemption over the Stockman mine’s toxic tailings dam constructed on the headwaters of the Tambo River near Benambra.

The Minister for Resources decision to amend the licence will permit the toxic tailings dam to be re-opened and expanded by CopperChem the company which has recently acquired Independence Group’s Stockman Project

“This is a murky deal that will jeopardise the health of the Tambo River and Gippsland Lakes for thousands of years,” said Louise Crisp of Gippsland Environment Group. “On what grounds was the exemption lifted and why weren’t the public and downstream farmers and communities consulted?”

“The Benambra copper and zinc mine was first operated by Denehurst Pty Ltd from 1992-96, until the company went bust and abandoned the mine site.  The company left behind a leaking tailings dam filled with 700,000 tonnes of toxic heavy metal tailings at risk of breaching and flooding the Tambo River and Gippsland Lakes.

In 2006 the State Government rehabilitated the tailings dam at a cost of $7million to the taxpayer. The dam was renamed Lake St Barbara and an exemption placed over the site to exclude it from any future mining licence.

The dam is still leaking polluted water at a rate of 86,000 litres per day into the headwaters of the Tambo River, the ore used to raise the dam wall to prevent it breaching contained potential acid forming material, and an acid seep from the old processing plant is also contaminating the Tambo River.

In 2014 Independence Group proposed to re-open the Stockman mine and massively expand the tailings dam to store up to another seven million tonnes of mine tailings. The company planned to raise the dam wall up to 45 metres above the valley floor and to increase the surface area of the dam from eight to 32 hectares.

In December this year Australian company CopperChem  purchased Independence Group’s Stockman Project. At the same time the Victorian Minister for Resources Tim Pallas announced that CopperChem had signed a deal with the State Government to fund the ongoing management of the tailings dam after mining has ended. The tailings must remain covered by two metres of water forever to prevent an acid chain reaction occurring.

When interviewed on ABC radio last week the Minister would not divulge the financial details of the Trust Fund which is intended to fund the management of the tailings dam in perpetuity.

“The community has a right to know what CopperChem’s financial contribution is to the Trust Fund and whether the Victorian taxpayer is also making a contribution,” said Ms Crisp.  “How can the State Government possibly calculate what it will cost to maintain a massively expanded dam filled with toxic tailings and keep the Tambo River and Gippsland Lakes safe for the next thousand years?”

The Minister for Resources also failed to mention that he had signed off on an amendment to the mining licence exemption which will now permit the tailings dam to be expanded and become operational again. There was no public consultation regarding the amendment. CopperChem has now submitted an application to Earth Resources for an infrastructure mining licence over the tailings dam.

“The rehabilitation of the abandoned tailings dam in 2006 came at a great financial cost to the taxpayer and the exemption excluding it from any mining operations forever was put there for good reason,” said Ms Crisp. “Why has the exemption been lifted? What advice has the Minister received about the risks to the Tambo River from an expanded tailings dam constructed right across its headwaters?  How much will it cost the taxpayer to remediate a much larger tailings dam, the second time around?”

The decision by the State Government to abrogate its ongoing responsibility for the tailings dam is foolhardy and incomprehensible. The Resources Minister’s action to remove the exemption over the tailings dam puts the future of the Tambo River and Gippsland Lakes at risk of catastrophic environmental damage.

See attached: Minister’s amendment of the licence exemption


Further reading is available at the Stockman Mine page

COMMUNITY WORKSHOP: Threatened Species & Protection – 17th August 2017

rainforest

PHOTO: LIZARDSTOMP

COMMUNITY WORKSHOP

Threatened Species Reporting and Protection under Victorian Law

 

The local community and citizen scientists in Gippsland are invited to learn about using threatened species surveys to help protect Victoria’s threatened plants, animals and their habitats. An expert lawyer from Environmental Justice Australia will explain the current laws and:

  • Where to find the rules relevant to species in your area
  • Where to find surveying guides and maps
  • What to record when surveying
  • How to document and report your findings
  • When you might need help from lawyers

Thursday 17th August, 6.45pm for 7.00pm start

Bairnsdale Neighbourhood House, 27 Dalmahoy Street, Bairnsdale

Environmental Justice Australia is pleased to host this workshop in collaboration with Gippsland Environment Group Inc.

If you have any questions please contact Gippsland Environment Group on 0418 516 373

Providence Ponds Flora and Fauna Reserve burn 3 May 2017 – nationally endangered New Holland Mice incinerated

Letter to Bairnsdale Advertiser 9/7/2017

See also:  http://www.gippslandtimes.com.au/story/4794112/wildlife-killed-by-burn-in-fauna-reserve/

NATIONALLY ENDANGERED NEW HOLLAND MOUSE INCINERATED AT PROVIDENCE PONDS FLORA AND FAUNA RESERVE

In early May, the site of a colony of the rare New Holland Mouse was incinerated in a fuel reduction burn. Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning (DELWP) and Forest Five Management Victoria (FFMV) carried out the burn in the Providence Ponds Flora and Fauna Reserve west of Bairnsdale.

Providence Ponds Flora and Fauna Reserve is one of only three locations in Victoria where the nationally endangered (EPBC listed) New Holland Mouse occurs.

A number of New Holland Mice had been recorded in the past two years in the area of the Reserve that was severely burned yet Heyfield DELWP/FFMV which oversaw the burn failed to consider the welfare of this rare species locals believe.

“The fire was extremely hot due to a very dry autumn and the Heathland and Banksia woodland was intensely burned right down to sand,” said Louise Crisp from Gippsland Environment Group. “Highway traffic was reduced to one car at a time under police control due to poor visibility from the dense smoke. This was not an ecological burn.”

Members of Gippsland Environment Group and the Mammal Survey Group re-entered the burned area a month after the burn and located the GPS co-ordinates of the sites where the New Holland Mice had been captured.

“All the New Holland Mouse sites were completely incinerated except one which was partially incinerated,” said Louise Crisp.

“The intensity and scale of the burn in locations where the rare New Holland Mouse has been so recently recorded was shocking,” said Nancy McMurray from the Mammal Survey Group “Did DELWP staff actually, consult their biodiversity database? Why did Parks Victoria allow such a burn carried to be out in the Flora and Fauna Reserve with so little regard for threatened species?”

“Since the burn apparently one or more New Holland Mice have been recorded on camera in an unburnt section in the centre of the block but as New Holland Mice have a very small home range of only 0.4-1.4ha it is clear that many of the mice previously recorded have perished,” said Ms Crisp. “Did DELWP/FFMV have authority to destroy a protected species?”

A report by Trust for Nature, which had funded the surveys for New Holland Mice in 2015 and 2016, recommended modification of burning practices in the Reserve including reducing the patch size of burns to protect the New Holland Mouse. New Holland Mice were captured   in a wide range of post-fire vegetation age classes including long unburnt vegetation but none were found in a block burnt 3 years previously. The report noted that it is vegetation structure rather than time since fire per se that influences abundance of New Holland Mice.

“Did Heyfield DELWP/FFMV consider the report’s recommendations and include them in the burn plan? We don’t know because DELWP has failed to provide the burn plan to the public despite requests” said Ms Crisp.

“In addition more than a hundred trees around the boundary of the burn were also felled or pushed over by dozer. Did Parks Victoria authorise DELWP/FFMV to destroy these important habitat trees in the Reserve?”

“This burn raises serious questions about Parks Victoria capacity to maintain and protect the biodiversity of this Reserve and many others in the State. National Parks and Reserves contribute 50% of the burn target in Victoria yet Parks Victoria leaves the burn operations in the hands of DELWP/FFMV who have neither the biodiversity staff nor apparently the inclination to protect threatened species and ecosystems. Continued burning at the scale, frequency and intensity that is currently occurring throughout East Gippsland is a major threat to the survival of indigenous species and ecosystems,” said Ms McMurray.

A key recommendation of the Trust for Nature report suggested that: DELWP and Parks Victoria develop an ecologically sensitive fire management plan for Providence Ponds that targets the conservation of the New Holland Mouse populations given the significance of these localities for the species’ conservation in a state-wide context.

“Gippsland Environment Group urges Parks Victoria to develop an ecological fire management plan for Providence Ponds as a matter of priority before the next autumn burn season,” said Ms Crisp

Gippsland Environment Group is still waiting on answers to questions sent to Heyfield DELWP/FFMV and Parks Victoria over a month ago regarding the Providence Ponds burn.

Gippsland Environment Group

NHM - B'dale Advertiser 14.7.17
PPFFR - 110 dozed trees - DELWP burn 3.5.17 PPFFR looking north to PPN 11A PPN 7B 2016 burnt 3.5.17 PPN 11A 2016 #2 burnt 3.5.17

Open letter: Nowa Nowa- Nelsons Rd Burn 2BNN0029 – request pause and review

Dear Ms Eagleson,

Gippsland Environment Group is very concerned about a scheduled burn due to be ignited in East Gippsland along the Ramsar listed Lake Tyers downstream of the township of Nowa Nowa ( Nowa Nowa –Nelsons Rd – 2BNN0029).

This planned burn (260ha) is located in Lake Tyers State Park and borders the Nowa Nowa arm of Lake Tyers, a part of the Ramsar listed Gippsland Lakes. It has not been burnt for more than 60 years. Previous DELWP burns in the Lake Tyers State Park have incinerated a Sooty owl nest and burnt vegetation right down to the lake shore.

Another burn adjacent to the township destroyed a number of large habitat trees and the amenity of the Nowa Nowa Mountain Bike trail.

We wish to respectfully request an immediate pause on any plans to ignite the burn and that DELWP undertake on-ground surveys to ensure the protection of the site’s ecological values:

  • Current conditions are very dry and reliance on the moisture differential to protect the Warm Temperate Rainforest stands and Riparian Forest, combined with use of aerial incendiaries risks incinerating the whole area;
  • The burn plan has not excluded a section of the Limestone Box woodland in the southeast corner and the dozed boundary has crossed through the EVC;
  • There are a number of Yellow-bellied Glider feed trees in the south-east gully bordering the dozed fire break-line at S37° 45.8’ E148°7.8 and Yellow bellied gliders were heard immediately west of here on night of 15.2.17;
  • Yellow-bellied gliders were also seen and heard on western side of Nelsons Rd (across from the cleared land-forest boundary on east side road) on night of 15.2.17. Locals have frequently heard and seen yellow-bellied gliders point crossing Nelsons Rd at this point entering to and from the burn area;
  • There is an eagles nest on the spur running east from the mouth of Ironstone Creek at S37°44.30 E148°.6.24. There also other Yellow-bellied glider feed trees in this area;
  • An extensive stand of Silver Banksia is located in the gully that runs east on the southern side of the eagle’s nest;
  • Many large old Saw Banksias occur throughout the burn area but there are many of varying age as well, burning this site will eliminate this age differentiation and destroy a key food source for nectar-feeding mammals;
  • There are many old habitat trees throughout the whole burn area but DELWP have only raked or dozed around those hollow trees immediately adjacent to the road;
  • Long unburnt forest in East Gippsland is preferred habitat of potoroos and bandicoots but no DELWP mammal surveys have been conducted;
  • Long unburnt forest is now a rarity in Gippsland and must be protected.

It is unfortunate that our request to walk through the burn area with DELWP burn staff was refused, this area is of very high ecological significance.

We urge the Department to intervene to ensure that this burn is re-assessed and the biodiversity at the site is completely protected.

Yours sincerely

Louise Crisp

Gippsland Environment Group

  • Planned burn area

 

Fire & Biodiversity Forum – 12th March 2015 – 7pm

firebdposter_webBurning issue to be subject of local forum

A public forum on fire will be held on Thursday evening, March 12th at 7pm, at St Mary’s Parish Hall, Bairnsdale to discuss various aspects of fire management including biodiversity loss, forest type, age, fire severity, climate change and public safety, as well options for future management.

The forum, starting at 7.00 pm, will hear from expert speakers including Dr. Chris Taylor, a Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Sustainable Society Institute, and Phil Ingamells co-ordinator of the Victorian National Parks Association’s (VNPA) Fire Project.

Dr Chris Taylor is co-author of a recently published scientific study on the relationship between the age of trees and the severity of fires in Mountain Ash forests. This study showed that increasing the area of young Mountain Ash trees can increase the probability of high severity fires in these forests. Dr Taylor will present and discuss the findings of this study and its implications for forest management.

The VNPA’s Fire Project is concerned with improving fire management on all public and private land across the State. Phil Ingamells will outline the dilemmas of fire management, highlight the changes in fire management since the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, and the knowledge that has been gained since that time. He will suggest ways we can improve fire planning and management, so that we can achieve better protection for the community, and better natural protection for our natural areas.

The event will be hosted by the Gippsland Environment Group. President, Mr John Hermans said “we are really excited to be able to present this forum to the people of Bairnsdale and the wider East Gippsland community, as it will give them a chance to understand some of the complexities involved in fire management and hopefully provide some hard learned truths which tend to get forgotten in the rush to ‘burn excessively’ in an attempt to protect ourselves from bushfires”. “This is a great opportunity to hear about some of the latest science coming out of the University of Melbourne, and elsewhere, which can help inform us to make better decisions about fire management and should dispel some myths too” said Mr Hermans. “Anyone with an interest in how fire should be managed, its impact on communities, fuel reduction burning and biodiversity or people just wanting to be better informed about these important issues, are urged to attend”.

The forum is a free event and everyone is welcome.

For further information please phone 0468 395 388.

Stop the Scrapping of the Snowy Scientific Committee

The NSW Government plans to scrap the independent Snowy Scientific Committee (SSC), the only independent scientific body advising on environmental flows for the Snowy River and other rivers affected by the Snowy Scheme.

The NSW legislative assembly has passed a Bill to abolish the SSC and replace it with an advisory committee (with limited functions) controlled by the Minister for Primary Industries. The Bill will be voted on in the legislative council after parliament resumes on the 6th May 2014.

Environment Victoria has established a petition to help retain the SSC. Please sign the petition at http://environmentvictoria.org.au/savethesnowy asking NSW MPs to save the SSC.

The SSC was belatedly established in January 2008 and despite a serious lack of funding and support from the NSW Government it produced a series of invaluable public reports on the adequacy of environmental flows to the Snowy River. Its first three year term expired in May 2011 and despite government promises at the time has not been re-established.

Despite intergovernmental agreements in 2002 to return 28% to the Snowy below Jindabyne Dam and flows to the upper Snowy above Jindabyne the river is far from saved. The Snowy River in NSW is listed by the NSW Fisheries Scientific Committee as an endangered aquatic ecological community. You can view the entire report at: http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/426308/Snowy-River-EEC-Final-Determination.pdf

In the 2014/15 water year the total annual allocation to the Snowy River below Jindabyne Dam will be less than 14% whilst the Snowy above Jindabyne Dam in Kosciusko National Park remains severely degraded.

The Snowy Hydro Corporatisation Amendment (Snowy Advisory Committee) Bill 2013 will replace the six member independent SSC with a Ministerial controlled advisory committee that:

  • has no requirement for any scientific representatives
  • will have a chair (& all the members) appointed by the Minister for Primary Industries not the Minister for Environment
  • will have a greatly reduced role compared to the SSC advising only on the annual release regime of environmental water whereas the SSC was also required to advise on the adequacy of environmental flows, the programs for restoration of the rivers and catchments and provide an annual public state of environment report
  • removes transparency and accountability from the $425 million taxpayers investment in Snowy River environmental flows
  • will not have confidence of the Snowy communities or the general public

Last year Snowy Hydro Ltd (SHL) with a net profit of $280 million paid out $460 million in dividends to its three government shareholders. NSW with a 58% share of SHL benefited the most. Without the independent oversight of the SSC there is the potential that taxpayer funded environmental water may be diverted for the financial benefit of SHL and the NSW Government.

The restoration of the Snowy River depends on an adequately funded independent Snowy Scientific Committee.

Scathing EPA Report of the Lakes

The Victorian Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has undertaken an investigation of the salinity levels and its impacts on the Gippsland Lakes. The EPA report presented in May 2013 clearly states that the deepening of the entrance by Gippsland Ports (GP) was responsible for the increased salinity of the Gippsland Lakes.

The report outlines that “The Gippsland Lakes are characterised by a strong east to west salinity gradient corresponding to the increased influence of ocean waters. Salinity levels are driven by proximity to the entrance and is produced by the salt water input at the entrance”. The report further states “The lakes have been modified, the entrance has been dredged even deeper, and this has had a profound modification. Increased salinity stimulates the release of dissolved nutrients from the lakes‘ system…the high levels of surface water salinity threatens the surrounding freshwater swamps and wetlands.”

The report explains that the eastern lakes are generally salt stratified, meaning a layer of freshwater resides over the high saline deeper water and that this condition is conducive to the release of nutrients from lake sediments which are then available to feed algal blooms.

Freedom of Information documents obtained by GEG demonstrate that the East Gippsland Shire operated as an agent for GP in applying for funding to investigate developing Lakes Entrance as a deep sea port to service the oil and gas rigs. It is also interesting that in their application to the Shire, GP stated that the entrance was 2.5 metres deep. It is currently being maintained at 6 to 7 metres, twice the depth that the previous dredge vessel ‘April Hamer’ could manage.

The lakes have now been invaded by marine species such as shark, stingray, squid and exotic pests such as the European Shore Crab. Sandworm are now dead, fringing vegetation has been killed and bank erosion has followed.

It is now more important than ever that state and federal governments step in and carry out a complete (environmental, economic and social) audit of the lakes’ and that we move towards establishing a dedicated skills based Gippsland Lakes Management Authority instead of the continual spin generated to assure tourists that all is fine with the lakes’ health whilst they rapidly decline and take the tourist industry and the East Gippsland economy down with it.

More trouble for the Snowy

The NSW Government is proposing to replace the independent Snowy Scientific Committee with an advisory committee subject to the control and direction of the Minister and funded by Snowy Hydro Ltd.

The Snowy Scientific Committee (established by legislation) had provided the only public accountability and transparency on environmental flows. Now the NSW Government wants to do away with it completely.

Read the full article (at Environment Victoria’s website) – More trouble for the Snowy

Flawed Gippsland Lakes Strategy

The Draft Gippsland Lakes Environmental Strategy prepared by the Gippsland Lakes Ministerial Advisory Committee is flawed as it was not based on the international standard for risk management – ISO 31000.

The Gippsland Lakes are Ramsar listed wetlands of international significance. If you’re developing a strategy, policies or a system to manage and mitigate environmental impacts of such an important ecosystem, it must be in line with world’s best practice, based on a reputable international model of risk management.

The strategy does not outline how environmental impacts were identified, assessed and what mitigation strategies will be implemented according to an order of risk heirachy. There is a list of wish-wash aspirational objectives that do not indicate who is responsible for what and have no completion dates. There is no monitoring, auditing or certification of the process by a third party independent body. This clearly goes against the fundamentals of process integrity and continual improvement.

The strategy is only a rehash of existing documentation dumbed down to devaluate signficant environmental issues. For example, the only place you’ll find the word mercury in the entire document is in the reference page. G Fabris and other scientists back in 1999 identified the rising levels of mercury in bream found in the lakes yet there is no mention of the associated health risks or mitigation programs to tackle mercury washing down from disused mines upstream in the catchment. Furthermore there is no mention of the new dolphin species Tursiops australis (the Burrunan dolphin) or that mercury poisoning killed 9 of them in 2008-2009. There is only one paragraph on dredging of the artificial entrance with no mention of the severe impacts caused by the influx of salt water into the lakes. There is no mention of the european shore crab, an exotic invasive species that has entered the lakes and has decimated native species of sandworm and freshwater bivalves.

This entirely flawed process can only come down to the fact that the committee is stacked with members of the business community such as land developers, tourism operators and the ports manager who have commercial interests and steer away from the complex issues of the lakes and the science behind sound environmental management.

Another Gippsland Lakes Strategy

Click on this icon to download the complete submission

The East Gippsland community is “strategied out” and can justifiably consider that the development of yet another Strategy is but a process to give the illusion of progress and that the issues so obviously requiring urgent attention on the lakes will again not be addressed.

That’s the crux of GEG’s submission to the Gippsland Lakes Ministerial Advisory Committee’s draft strategy. Heaps of paperwork and years of no action to fix the problems.

The submission further details the main issues of the Gipplsand Lakes including: salinity, water quality, fisheries management, invasive species, Ramsar convention criteria, algal blooms, funding and human health impacts.

Mercury in the Gippsland Lakes

As far back as 1980 state government scientists (J W Glover, G J Bacher & T S Pearce) identified that (the heavy metal) mercury has been accumulating in the Gippsland Lakes. Mercury sources include mining, discharges from Australian Paper’s Maryvale papermill and the fallout from burning coal in the Latrobe Valley. These scientists recommended that further investigation is required to determine the distribution of mercury throughout the lakes, and whether significant quantities of mercury are still entering the lakes or being discharged from the lakes.

In 1998 Dr Graham of the CSIRO in an audit of the Gippsland Lakes ecology made similar recommendations on the need to further investigate mercury in the lake chain. In 1999 G Fabris et al. identified a 58% increase in mercury in the flesh of Black Bream of the Gippsland Lakes. In 2007 nine dolphins were identified to have died of mercury poisoning. Over the next five years a further six of this newly identified dolphin species died which represents a 30% loss of the lakes dolphin population. Throughout this entire period right through to this day there has been no follow-up investigation.

Following extensive communication with the Department of Health (DoH), Foodsafe, Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) it appears that there is no monitoring of heavy metals in the Gippsland Lakes or the lakes catchment. Read DoH’s response to GEG raising these concerns – DoH letter (25 June 2012). The “literature review” mentioned in the DoH letter is a 2004 DPI in-house investigation into mercury in Lake Wellington.  GEG has been refused access to this document but consider it to be historic and not a control that the department would make judgment on regarding such a serious public health issue.

Would you trust these departments? Back in 2005 the DoH conducted fish studies in the Maribyrnong River only after the media revealed high levels of (heavy metal) Arsenic is leaching into Port Philip Bay. The EPA did not undertake tests on fish and the last time it tested for Arsenic was back in 1970’s. Check out: The Age – Arsenic Leaked Into River (22 August 2005). According to a 2001 report by consultant Peter Ramsay the EPA has been concerned about arsenic levels in the Maribyrnong since the 1990s. In 1995 it received a report showing arsenic leaching at about 3000 times the standard. “The EPA should have tested the river and fish downstream”, said Andrea Hinwood, an environmental scientist and arsenic expert at Edith Cowan University. “If those levels are going into the river, as a precautionary approach they should do the testing and provide people with some certainty that it’s OK. Those are very high levels.”

Are these government departments doing their job? Are they safeguarding us from the risks associated with consuming heavy metals? Are they doing anything to monitor and protect the environment? It seems not.

Read the full 1980 government scientific report:

Heavy Metals in Biota & Sediments of the Gippsland Lakes (Section 1: Introduction, Study Area, Sources of Metals, Results & Discussion – 7.3Mb)

Heavy Metals in Biota & Sediments of the Gippsland Lakes (Section 2: Sampling Methods, Analytical Methods, Conclusions, Recommendations & References – 4.1Mb)

Heavy Metals in Biota & Sediments of the Gippsland Lakes (Section 3: Appendices – 4.3Mb)

Lakes Entrance Dredging Impacts

In 2005 Gippsland Ports (the port authority for Gippsland Lakes) undertook an environmental risk assessment of its operations and identified that increasing the depth of the entrance (capital dredging) will have extreme environmental impacts.

Infamous page 34

Page 34 of the Gippsland Ports Safety and Environmental Management Plan states that capital dredging will produce extreme environmental risks such as the alteration of coastal processes (tidal flows) and the disturbance of sediments that cause destruction of marine life. The plan further outlines that there are no current controls for these environmental impacts and additional controls only include government permits which at the end of the day are simply an administrative control. No elimination or substitution of risk was considered and no engineering controls were identified.

In 2008 the Commonwealth Government gave Gippsland Ports permission to undertake capital dredging. Prior to obtaining the permit Gippsland Ports was required to undertake an environmental assessment of only 3 km around the artificial entrance of the lakes (a total of 28 sq km). This zone is as salty as the sea and no study was undertaken into the impacts for the rest of the lakes which include estuarine and freshwater ecosystems and the Ramsar listed wetlands (a total of 600 sq km). Furthermore the action was not reported to Ramsar under Article 3.2 of the agreement where the Australian Government is required to notify Ramsar of any sites undergoing change. As of six months ago when the last report was lodged, changes to the Gippsland Lakes had not been reported. In fact, the Government’s official documents report that there has been no change since 1992.

The Gippsland Lakes are now faced with increased tidal flow speeds (at the entrance), fringing vegetation dieback, bank erosion, increased salinity, the proliferation of exotic invasive marine species and the demise of native fauna such as sandworms and Black Bream.

Check out the ABC Lateline report (24 April 2012): Authorities have failed to fulfil obligations to protect wetlands in Gippsland in south-east Victoria, despite signing an international agreement to do so. – Salinity threatens world-renown Gippsland Lakes

Salty Gippsland Lakes

Have you noticed that the lakes are as salty as the sea? It’s not your imagination, it’s a fact. The lakes have transformed from an estuarine environment to a salt water environment. This is principally due to the dredging of the artificial entrance at Lakes Entrance from a historical depth of 2.5m to 6m in 2008.

The increased depth of the entrance allows more salt water to enter the lakes system which impacts on a range of plants and animals that depend on the freshwater flows from the feeding rivers. This includes fringing vegetation (as seen in the photo) which is steadily dying and causing bank erosion.

The increase in salinity has also created a perfect habitat for invasive salt water exotic species such as the European shore crab. This crab is a veracious predator that destroys ecosystems and impacts on tourism, aquaculture, recreational and commercial fishing.