Farmers oppose filling open cut mines with water

The Hazelwood coal mine void.
The Hazelwood coal mine void.

LATROBE River irrigators unhappy with a proposal to fill the Latrobe Valley's three open-cut coal mines with water from the Latrobe River are gearing up for a fight to protect their water supplies.

In a bid to stabilise the mine walls once they close, the state government has proposed filling the mines with water drawn from the Latrobe River system, to bring tourists to the area.

Kilmany farmer Angus Zilme said farmers would resist the state government's plan, and were organising a committee to be "the voice" of irrigators in a campaign against the proposal.

He said farmers did not believe the plan made good use of the "precious" water resource of the Latrobe River system, and were calling for the water to be used to expand the region's lucrative food and fibre industries.

The government's proposal includes using 3000 gigalitres (three million megalitres) over 30 years to fill the dams, with an expected evaporation loss of eight gigalitres annually.

But Mr Zilme said the current total Latrobe system licensing for irrigators was only 10 gigalitres, equating to about two per cent of the Blue Rock Dam holding.

"That is the potential for about 50 hectares along the river that could be used as irrigation farmland, but they want to fill the mines with that water," he said.

"It doesn't make economic sense, and I don't believe they have properly assessed alternative options."

Another Kilmany irrigation farmer, Frank Mills, said the state government's proposal had "too many unknowns".

Mr Mills said dozens of irrigators could potentially be affected by the plan, with at least 15 of those in Wellington Shire.

He said the current system was "a good one", which also helped manage environmental flows.

"No one really knows what's going on or what might happen when all this changes, and we believe we have to start making noise about this now," he said.

Mr Zilme said all farmers and irrigators were encouraged to attend a meeting this week to organise a committee, and discuss a plan to oppose the state government's proposal.

The committee would also continue to represent irrigators on a range of issues, including the development and sustainability of the Latrobe River.

The meeting will be held this Thursday from 6pm at the Glengarry Hotel.