Irrigation water must be used for farming

GIPPSLAND South MLA Danny O’Brien has called on the state government to guarantee water entitlements for Latrobe irrigators in light of the planned creation of pit lakes in Latrobe Valley coal mines.

Mr O’Brien has put a series of questions to the government in parliament seeking assurances that irrigators’ entitlements will be protected.

It comes as the government has confirmed all Latrobe Valley mine operators are considering only pit lakes as rehabilitation options for their open cut coal mines.

Mr O’Brien said it would take an enormous amount of water – almost 3500 gigalitres – to fill all three Latrobe Valley coal mines.

“It is rather alarming that such a large amount of water is going to be used to stabilise the coal mines, and I’m advised that the Morwell mine alone will take something in the order of 680,000 megalitres of water to fill,” Mr O’Brien said.

“The government needs to recognise the rights of other entitlement holders, including irrigators on the Latrobe River, the Lower Latrobe wetlands and the environment of the Gippsland Lakes.”

Mr O’Brien said clarity was needed on where water would be found to fill the mines, and irrigators needed assurance that existing and future economic and environmental opportunities for the region won’t be compromised.

Specifically, Mr O’Brien was seeking answers as to what affect the proposed pit lakes would have on “mine returns” (groundwater pumped by mine operators and diverted into the Latrobe) currently utilised by irrigations.

“Irrigators are seeking assurances that the allocated but unused entitlement on the Latrobe are to remain available to expand irrigation and create jobs, and not diverted to filling mines,” Mr O’Brien said.

He said he appreciated the need to create a stable and sustainable landform in disused coal mines and that there were risks in alternatives to pit lakes, “however I am concerned that the government has not had an open and honest discussion with the community about the risks and costs of alternatives”.

“There is considerable water available within the Latrobe system that could be put to good use in central Gippsland because it is allocated but not used,” Mr O’Brien said.

“We need guarantees that none of this water will be used to top up the mines, when it could be used to create ongoing and sustainable jobs for the people of the Latrobe Valley and Gippsland.”