A new alliance of 50 groups, including several from the Illawarra, was launched yesterday to intensify the campaign to stop further damage to Sydney's drinking water catchment from harmful mining practices.
The coalition, called Protect Sydney's Water, brings together groups from the Illawarra, Sydney, Southern Highlands and Blue Mountains, concerned about the impacts of coalmining and the possibility of industrial coal seam gas extraction in the drinking water catchment.
Yesterday, Protect Sydney's Water released results of a recent poll which showed strong opposition to coalmining and coal seam gas development in the drinking water catchment.
The poll of 1100 people found that 87 per cent of respondents supported banning coalmining and CSG activities in the drinking water catchment area and within two kilometres of rivers and wetlands. It was conducted in early May by Essential Research on behalf of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW and Lock The Gate Alliance.
The Northern Illawarra Sustainability Alliance (NISA) joined Protect Sydney's Water to share information and pool resources in a bid to draw attention to the harm being caused by mining in the catchments.
Peter Turner, NISA co-convener, said the damage would intensify if coal seam gas production in the catchment went ahead.
The daily harm caused by coalmining in the catchment was well documented but still not widely known, he said.
For example, the Sydney Catchment Authority estimated that each year 3 billion litres of water were lost into the mines beneath the catchments.
"Mining also cracks the bedrock beneath the catchments' swamps, draining them and drying them out," Mr Turner said.
"The swamps are vital parts of the catchment. They act as slow release sponges that trap and filter water, helping to maintain our water supply during low rain periods."
Mr Turner said the approval of the expansion of the Mount Kembla Dendrobium longwall coalmine, granted in February by the state government, would result in harming several swamps recognised as being of special significance because of their size and complexity.
The Illawarra Escarpment Network is also part of the coalition. Spokeswoman Carol Berry said the network joined the powerful group to further support the campaign to protect environmentally sensitive catchments and to draw attention to the issues.
"I think the stop coal seam gas campaign has been great in drawing attention to the need to protect water catchment areas from coal seam gas mining and now I think it's an opportunity to draw some attention to ensuring that water catchment areas are also protected from other activities such as longwall mining," Ms Berry said.
Meantime, a decision to award a contract to audit the health of Sydney's drinking water catchment to engineering firm GHD Group has alarmed the Nature Conservation Council of NSW and community group Save Our Water Catchment Areas.
They have written to Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson and the board of the Sydney Catchment Authority claiming that GHD is unsuitable to conduct the audit because of an alleged conflict of interest.
Nature Conservation Council campaigns director Kate Smolski said that GHD had acted as a consultant on hydro-geology for BHP Billiton in its efforts to obtain approval for the expansion of the Dendrobium mine.