Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Increased Water Pollution After Closure of Australia’s Longest Operating Underground Coal Mine: a 13-Month Study of Mine Drainage, Water Chemistry and River Ecology

Abstract

This study investigated the water pollution impact of mine drainage from an underground colliery that had stopped mining 3 years earlier. After more than a century of operation, the mining stopped, pumping ceased and groundwater accumulated, causing the flooding of the deepest sections (c. 15%) of the mine workings. The mine then began free-draining to the adjacent Wingecarribee River. The closure and flooding triggered acid mine drainage that has resulted in mildly acidic pH and higher concentrations of several metals. Of greatest environmental concern were ecologically hazardous concentrations of three metals: nickel (418 μg/L), zinc (1161 μg/L) and manganese (11,909 μg/L) in the mine drainage. Such concentrations are some of the highest concentrations reported for these metals in drainage from an Australian coal mine and are 2.5 to seven times higher than when the mine was operating. The concentration of nickel and manganese were stable, but zinc gradually declined throughout the 13-month study. The inflow of the drainage increased the concentration of the three metals in the river, causing exceedance of water quality guidelines for protection of aquatic species. The ecological impact of the mine drainage was substantial, causing a 63% reduction in family richness and a 90% reduction in proportion of invertebrates from the known pollution-sensitive orders (Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera and Trichoptera). Literature suggests the pollution could continue for decades. Of additional concern is that the mine drainage is currently untreated and pollutes a river in the water catchment of Australia’s largest domestic water supply reservoir.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8
Fig. 9

References

  1. Alluvium. (2017). 2016 Audit of the Sydney Drinking Water Catchment. https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/lc/papers/DBAssets/tabledpaper/WebAttachments/71475/Sydney%20Catchment%20Audit%20Vol%201.pdf. Accessed 18 Oct 2017.

  2. ANZECC (Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council) and ARMCANZ (Agriculture and Resource Management Council of Australia and New Zealand). (2000). Australian and New Zealand guidelines for fresh and marine waters, National Water Quality Management Strategy Paper No. 4. Canberra: Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council/ Agriculture and Resource Management Council of Australia and New Zealand.

  3. APHA (American Public Health Association). (1998). Standard methods for the examination of water and wastewater (20th ed.). Washington, DC: American Public Health Association.

  4. Australian Government. (2016). Department of Industry, Innovation and Science. Australia’s major export commodities, coal. Fact sheet https://industry.gov.au/resource/Mining/AustralianMineralCommodities/Documents/Australias-major-export-commodities-coal-fact-sheet.pdf. Accessed 18 Oct 2017.

  5. Banks, D., Younger, P. L., Arnesen, R.-T., Iversen, E. R., & Banks, S. B. (1997). Mine-water chemistry: the good, the bad and the ugly. Environmental Geology, 32, 157–174.

  6. Battaglia, M., Hose, G. C., Turak, E., & Warden, B. (2005). Depauperate macroinvertebrates in a mine affected stream: clean water may be the key to recovery. Environmental Pollution, 138, 132–141.

  7. Boral. (2015). Berrima Colliery. Mining Operations Plan Rehabilitation and Final Closure Plan, October 2015, http://www.boral.com.au/Images/common/stakeholder-relations/cement-nsw/Berrima-Cement-Colliery-Closure-MOP.pdf. Accessed18 Oct 2017.

  8. Brake, S. S., Connors, K. A., & Romberger, S. B. (2001). A river runs through it: impact of acid mine drainage on the geochemistry of West Little Sugar Creek pre- and post-reclamation at the Green Valley coal mine, Indiana, USA. Environmental Geology, 40, 1471–1481.

  9. Cairney, T., & Frost, R. C. (1975). A case study of mine water quality deterioration, Mainsforth Colliery, County Durham. Journal of Hydrology, 25, 275–293.

  10. Clarke, K. R. (1993). Non-parametric multivariate analyses of changes in community structure. Australian Journal of Ecology, 18, 117–143.

  11. Clements, W. H., Carlisle, D. M., Lazorchak, J. M., & Johnson, P. C. (2000). Heavy metals structure benthic communities in Colorado Mountain streams. Ecological Applications, 10, 626–638.

  12. Ellis, D. (1985). Taxonomic sufficiency in pollution assessment. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 16, 459.

  13. EMGA. (2011). Berrima Colliery continued operations environmental assessment Volume 1. Prepared for Boral Cement Limited, May 2011. Perth Street, New Berrima NSW 2577.

  14. García-Criado, F., Tomé, A., Vega, F. J., & Antolín, C. (1999). Performance of some diversity and biotic indices in rivers affected by coal mining in northwestern Spain. Hydrobiologia, 394, 209–217.

  15. Geary, P. (2015). Disused mines blight New South Wales, yet the approvals continue.. The Conversation, 23 March 2015. http://theconversation.com/disused-mines-blight-new-south-wales-yet-the-approvals-continue-39059. Accessed 18 Oct 2017.

  16. GHD. (2013). 2013 audit of the Sydney drinking water catchment. http://www.waternsw.com.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/118695/2013-Catchment-Audit-Volume-1-Main-Report.pdf. Accessed18 Oct 2017.

  17. Gooderham, J., & Tsyrlin, E. (2002). The Waterbug book, a guide to freshwater macroinvertebrates of temperate Australia. Collingwood, Victoria: CSIRO publishing.

  18. Gray, D. P., & Harding, J. S. (2012). Acid Mine Drainage Index (AMDI): a benthic invertebrate biotic index for assessing coal mining impacts in New Zealand streams. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 46, 335–352.

  19. Griffith, M. B., Norton, S. B., Alexander, L. C., Pollard, A. I., & LeDuc, S. D. (2012). The effects of mountaintop mines and valley fills on the physicochemical quality of stream ecosystems in the central Appalachians: a review. Science of the Total Environment, 417-418, 1–12.

  20. Hawking, J. H. (2000). A preliminary guide to keys and zoological information to identify invertebrates from Australian freshwaters. Identification guide no. 2 (2nd Edition), Albury: Cooperative Research Centre for Freshwater Ecology.

  21. Hellawell, J. M. (1986). Biological indicators of freshwater pollution and environmental management. London: Elsevier.

  22. Huleatt, M. B.. (1991). Handbook of Australian black coals: Geology, resources, seam properties, and product specifications. Bureau of Mineral Resources, Canberra, Australia, Resource Report No. 7.

  23. Hynes, H. B. N. (1960). The biology of polluted waters. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

  24. Jackson, T. C. (1981). River ore pollution (p. 2). Unpublished internal memo dated 24th September 1981. Edinburgh: National Coal Board.

  25. Jarvis, A. P., & Younger, P. L. (1997). Dominating chemical factors in mine water induced impoverishment of the invertebrate fauna of two streams in the Durham Coalfield, UK. Chemistry and Ecology, 13, 249–270.

  26. Johnson, D. B. (2003). Chemical and microbiological characteristics of mineral spoils and drainage waters at abandoned coal and metal mines. Water, Air, and Soil Pollution, 3, 47–66.

  27. Krogh, M. (2007). Management of longwall coal mining impacts in Sydney’s southern drinking water catchments. Australian Journal of Environmental Management, 14, 155–165.

  28. Lenat, D. R., & Penrose, D. L. (1996). History of the EPT taxa richness metric. Bulletin of the North American Benthological Society, 13, 305–307.

  29. Merriam, E. R., Petty, J. T., Merovich Jr., G. T., Fulton, J. B., & Strager, M. P. (2011). Additive effects of mining and residential development on stream conditions in a central Appalachian watershed. Journal of the North American Benthological Society, 30, 399–418.

  30. Mudd, G. M. (2009). The sustainability of Mining in Australia: key production trends and their environmental implications for the future. Research Report No RR5, Department of Civil Engineering, Monash University and Mineral Policy Institute, Revised - April 2009. http://users.monash.edu.au/~gmudd/files/SustMining-Aust-Report-2009-Master.pdf. Accessed 18 Oct 2017.

  31. Norris, R. H., & Hawkins, C. P. (2000). Monitoring river health. Hydrobiologia, 435, 5–17.

  32. NSW Department of Industry, Resources and Energy. (2016). Quality of coal; deposits in NSW. https://www.resourcesandenergy.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/576543/Quality-of-coal-deposits.pdf. Accessed 5 Jan 2018.

  33. NSW Environment Protection Authority (NSW EPA). (2017a). Environment Protection Licence # 608. http://app.epa.nsw.gov.au/prpoeoapp/ViewPOEOLicence.aspx?DOCID=124473&SYSUID=1&LICID=608. Accessed 18 Oct 2017.

  34. NSW Environment Protection Authority (NSW EPA). (2017b). Search for Environment Protection licences, applications, notices, audits or pollution studies and reduction programs. http://app.epa.nsw.gov.au/prpoeoapp/. Accessed 2 Feb 2018.

  35. NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (NSW OEH). (2015). Clarence Colliery discharge investigation. http://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/resources/licensing/150171-clarence-colliery-discharge-investigation.pdf. Accessed 2 Feb 2018.

  36. Petty, J. T., Fulton, J. B., Strager, M. P., Merovich, G. T., Stiles, J. M., & Ziemkiewicz, P. F. (2010). Landscape indicators and thresholds of stream ecological impairment in an intensively mined Appalachian watershed. Journal of the North American Benthological Society, 29, 1292–1309.

  37. POEO Act. (1997). Protection of the Environment Operations Act NSW (1997). Available at: https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/#/view/act/1997/156. Accessed 18 Oct 2017.

  38. Pond, G. J., Passmore, M. E., Borsuk, F. A., Reynolds, L., & Rose, C. J. (2008). Downstream effects of mountaintop coal mining: comparing biological conditions using family- and genus-level macroinvertebrate bioassessment tools. Journal of the North American Benthological Society, 27, 717–737.

  39. Price, P., & Wright, I. A. (2016). Water quality impact from the discharge of coal mine wastes to receiving streams: comparison of impacts from an active mine with a closed mine. Water, Air and Soil Pollution, 227(5). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11270-016-2854-7.

  40. Resh, V. H., & Jackson, J. K. (1993). Rapid assessment approaches to biomonitoring using benthic macroinvertebrates. In D. M. Rosenberg & V. H. Resh (Eds.), Freshwater biomonitoring and benthic macroinvertebrates (pp. 195–223). New York, London: Chapman & Hall.

  41. Rosenberg, D. M., & Resh, V. H. (1993). Freshwater biomonitoring and benthic macroinvertebrates. New York, London: Chapman & Hall.

  42. Tiwary, R. K. (2000). Environmental impact of coal mining on water regime and its management. Water, Air and Soil Pollution, 132, 185–199.

  43. Unger, C., Lechner, A. M., Glenn, V., Edraki, M., & Mulligan, D. (2012). Mapping and prioritising rehabilitation of abandoned mines in Australia. In: Life-of-Mine Conference 2012, 10-12 July 2012. Conference Proceedings. (AusIMM), Brisbane, Australia, (pp. 259–266).

  44. Verb, R. G., & Vis, M. L. (2000). Comparison of benthic diatom assemblages from streams draining abandoned and reclaimed coal mines and nonimpacted sites. Journal of the North American Benthological Society, 19, 274–288.

  45. Warwick, R. M. (1993). Environmental impact studies on marine communities: pragmatical considerations. Australian Journal of Ecology, 18, 63–80.

  46. WaterNSW. (2017a). What we do. http://www.waternsw.com.au/about/what-we-do. Accessed 18 Oct 2017.

  47. WaterNSW. (2017b). Warragamba Dam. http://www.waternsw.com.au/supply/visit/warragamba-dam. Accessed 18 Oct 2017.

  48. Wright, I. A. (2012). Coal mine ‘dewatering’ of saline wastewater into NSW streams and rivers: a growing headache for water pollution regulators. In J. R. Grove & I. D. Rutherfurd (Eds.), Proceedings of the 6 th Australian Stream Management Conference, Managing for Extremes, 6-8 February 2012 Canberra, Australia, published by the River Basin Management Society (pp. 206–213).

  49. Wright, I. A., & Burgin, S. (2009a). Comparison of sewage and coal-mine wastes on stream macroinvertebrates within an otherwise clean upland catchment, south-eastern Australia. Water, Air and Soil Pollution, 204, 227–241.

  50. Wright, I. A., & Burgin, S. (2009b). Effects of organic and heavy-metal pollution on chironomids within a pristine upland catchment. Hydrobiologia, 635, 15–25.

  51. Wright, I. A., & Ryan, M. (2016). Impact of mining and industrial pollution on stream macroinvertebrates: importance of taxonomic resolution, water geochemistry and EPT indices for impact detection. Hydrobiologia, 772, 103–115.

  52. Wright, I. A., Chessman, B. C., Fairweather, P. G., & Benson, L. J. (1995). Measuring the impact of sewage effluent on the macroinvertebrate community of an upland stream: the effect of different levels of taxonomic resolution and quantification. Australian Journal of Ecology, 20, 142–149.

  53. Wright, I. A., Wright, S. A., Graham, K., & Burgin, S. (2011). Environmental protection and management: a water pollution case study within the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. Land Use Policy, 28, 353–360.

  54. Wright, I. A., McCarthy, B., Belmer, N., & Price, P. (2015). Subsidence from an underground coal mine and mine wastewater discharge causing water pollution and degradation of aquatic ecosystems. Water, Air & Soil Pollution, 226, 1–14.

  55. Wright, I. A., Belmer, N., & Davies, P. (2017). Coal mine water pollution and ecological impairment of one of Australia’s most ‘protected’ high conservation-value rivers. Water, Air, and Soil Pollution, 228.

  56. Younger, P. L. (1993). Possible environmental impact of the closure of two collieries in County Durham. Water and Environment Journal, 7, 521–531.

  57. Younger, P. L. (2000). Predicting temporal changes in total iron concentrations in groundwaters flowing from abandoned deep mines: a first approximation. Journal of Contaminant Hydrology, 44, 47–69.

  58. Younger, P. L. (2001). Mine water pollution in Scotland: nature, extent and preventative strategies. The Science of the Total Environment, 265, 309–326.

  59. Younger, P. L. (2002). Deep mine hydrogeology after closure: insights from the UK. In I. B. J. Merkel, B. Planer-Friedrich, & C. Wolkersdorfer (Eds.), Uranium in the Aquatic Environment (pp. 25–40). Heidelberg: Springer 1 fig., 2 tab., https://www.imwa.info/imwaconferencesandcongresses/proceedings/192-proceedings-2002.html. Accessed 20 Oct 2017.

  60. Younger, P. L. (2004). Environmental impacts of coal mining and associated wastes: a geochemical perspective. Geological Society, London, Special Publication, 236, 169–209.

  61. Younger, P. L., Banwart, S. A., & Hedin, R. S. (2002). Minewater, hydrology, pollution, remediation. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Download references

Acknowledgements

The research used research facilities of Western Sydney University and forms part of Nakia Belmer’s PhD research. Boral provided data on mine drainage and also helped with access to the mine drainage adit. The NSW Environment Protection Authority and NSW Division of Resources and Geoscience provided information on the mine closure process and regulation for coal mines before, during and after their closure. We are grateful for funding provided by Sustainable Southern Highlands Inc. Envirolab Services (Sydney) generously performed additional water testing. We thank Dr. Rob Mann (WSU) and Dr. Robert Niven (UNSW) for reviewing early manuscript drafts. Thanks to Ben Green and Paul Hammond for helping with fieldwork. Thanks also to Alison Ellis for drawing the map. We acknowledge and pay our respects to the traditional custodians of the land (Winge Karrabee) in which this study was conducted, the Dharug, Gundungurra, Tharawal and Yuin people and their elders, past and present.

Author information

Correspondence to Ian A. Wright.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Wright, I.A., Paciuszkiewicz, K. & Belmer, N. Increased Water Pollution After Closure of Australia’s Longest Operating Underground Coal Mine: a 13-Month Study of Mine Drainage, Water Chemistry and River Ecology. Water Air Soil Pollut 229, 55 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11270-018-3718-0

Download citation

Keywords

  • Macroinvertebrates
  • Heavy metals
  • Recovery
  • Acid mine drainage
  • Mine closure