The state government has pledged $14 million to address groundwater – laced with hydrogen sulphide, arsenic, dissolved salts and other metals – rising through Bendigo’s network of disused and abandoned mines.
Water Minister Lisa Neville said 2016/17 Victorian Budget would provide $14.1 million for an immediate fix to treat and dispose of groundwater over the next five years, while permanent solutions are assessed.
Ms Neville told the Bendigo Advertiser the issue was one of the first tabled on her desk when she assumed her ministerial position.
“It’s hard to quantify what the effects of this would be if it were left unchecked, but in terms of the health and the economy of the whole community, on its ability to attract industry and investment and on surrounding agriculture it would be very significant,” the minister said.
“Without management [contaminated ground water] will discharge into Sydney Flat Creek and then into the broader waterways around Bendigo and that, in itself, is unacceptable – we can’t let that happen.
“This brings our investment into providing a solution to the problem up $27 million.
“We are taking the lead in tackling this problem by providing this immediate short to medium term fix while we continue to work towards a permanent solution.”
Bendigo councillor and Unity Mining Environmental Review Committee chairperson Peter Cox welcomed the announcement, and said it meant efforts to rehabilitate the Woodvale Evaporation ponds – which previously stored the toxic groundwater – must now be redoubled.
“It is very important that the state government takes on its responsibility in this matter,” Cr Cox said.
“The rising groundwater is a legacy of mining from which not only Bendigo but Victoria, and wider Australia, has certainly benefited from since the 1850s.
“This signals the continued position that the Woodvale Ponds are no longer required and therefor rehabilitation of that land is very important and this point of time.”
“That rehabilitation needs to take place now and, over the next couple of years, whoever holds the licence there is responsible to do that rehabilitation.”
GBM Gold’s bid to take over the licence from Unity Mining is currently before the mining minister for approval.
If left unchecked, rising groundwater could damage roads, footpaths and buildings and threaten the operations of the one of the city’s major tourist draw cards, the Central Deborah Tourist Mine.
Coliban Water has been appointed as the primary delivery agent for the project and will now take the necessary steps to progress the project.
The Coliban Option would see the construction of a pipeline from Eaglehawk to the Epsom Water Reclamation Plant where the water would be treated to remove arsenic, salts and other heavy metals .
Ms Neville said this investment would go towards processes and infrastructure that could be used within the permanent solution.
“This will give us a solution for the next five to six years... but it is not throwing money away, whatever we do as a long-term solution will build on this investment,” she said.
Approval of the Coliban Option, currently before council for approval, states it is critical the project be operational by the end of July.
But Ms Neville said while the project was of critical importance, there was no immediate danger posed by rising groundwater.
“There is not a desperate urgency but we do want to get through council as soon as possible – the money is on the table now and we want to proceed and to start as soon as possible,” she said.
“I hope we are in position [to be operation] by the end of year, I understand that though it is an expensive job, it is not a massive job and I’m hoping we get well underway this year, but we need council on board and to be processing the tender and we want to move as quickly as we can.”
More to come.