By Michelle Slater
Environment groups are calling for a public inquiry into the Morwell River Diversion as regulatory approvals have been granted for EnergyAustralia to discharge water into the Latrobe River.
The Environment Protection Authority granted the Yallourn mine operator a Temporary Emergency Discharge approval to reduce upstream water from entering the Morwell River Diversion.
The approval has been granted for 65 days to allow up to 232 megalitres a day to be diverted from the Township Field pond in the mine to flow into the Latrobe River at a different discharge point.
This includes an existing discharge volume of up to 61 megalitres daily.
It comes after mining was temporarily halted and an exclusion zone was established when cracks were discovered in the diversion due to flooding rainfall last month.
The incident sparked the state government to declare a State of Energy Emergency.
The Yallourn Power Station is now running three units after it was reduced down to one, with daylight dozer-push mining resuming in the mine on Friday.
The company is undertaking short term repairs to the structure while exploring more options to repair the mine, expected to cost tens of millions of dollars.
EnergyAustralia energy executive Liz Westcott said the discharge approval was an “important first step” to reduce upstream water from entering the diversion.
Ms Westcott said the emergency discharge was a temporary measure and was expected to have a “minor impact” on the Latrobe River.
“Strict quality limits have been set by the EPA and this will be rigorously monitored by independent and accredited laboratory experts three times per week during the set discharge period,” Ms Westcott said.
“Our long-term strategy is to minimise any impact by transferring the majority of natural Morwell River flows along two pipelines directly to the Latrobe River, bypassing the area at risk.”
Ms Westcott said relieving pressure on the Morwell River Diversion was essential to complete the damage assessment alongside critical, permanent repairs to be undertaken.
“There are additional diversion options that need to be progressed,” she said.
“Once they are finalised, similar with today we will inform the community so they’re clear on our approach and have confidence we are caring for the surrounding environment.”
Environment Victoria is calling for a public Inquiry into the incident, following a similar diversion failure in 2012 after heavy rainfall.
Environment Victoria campaigns manager Nicholas Aberle said questions should be asked on how the diversion was allowed to “fail again”.
“Were lessons learned from the previous mine wall collapse and flooding of Yallourn? Did the regulator allow mining too close to the embankment? How complicit is EnergyAustralia in this failure?” Dr Aberle said.
“We believe an Inquiry is needed to dig deeper into what caused this situation and who is to blame. The government should also rule out public funds being used to fix the Morwell River Diversion.”
Environmental Justice Australia lawyer Bronja Lipski backed an Inquiry, stating that previous discharges “caused adverse environmental outcomes for the Latrobe River and
further downstream for a period of time”.
“The appropriate next step is to ensure that an independent board of Inquiry investigates what has occurred and makes recommendations on what needs to be done to ensure the generation and distribution of power from Yallourn up to its closure date in 2028 and that we don’t find ourselves in an energy emergency again,” Ms Lipski said.
By Michelle Slater