Leaving Canberra Tuesday afternoon, after an exciting visit to see cutting edge solar dish technology (very impressive indeed), we travelled to Lithgow. Arriving later than expected, the small group of concerned Lithgow environmentalists we were to meet kindly waited.
A detailed presentation showed us the horrifying extent of the long term environmentally impacts from coal mining and coal-fired power stations here. The legacy of Lithgow’s industrial heritage is more than the communities shared identity from being a mining town – Lithgow’s environmental problems need to be framed as part of this same history.
Around Lithgow there are warning signs pointing out the dangers of mine subsidence. However, some warnings on public land are nothing more than a piece of paper; an A4 sheet acting as a supposedly valid ‘warning sign’ to be careful of subsidence in the area. Some photos showed these ‘signs’ can become almost illegible from weathering – this is a clear public safety issue. The photos we saw of the subsidence showed massive cracks running through cliffs, rock and including in roads. The next day we were taken to see this for ourselves. These are permanent scares on Lithgow’s landscape.
Lithgow is riddled with mine subsidence and now some houses have to built in accordance with specific safety considerations to the possibilities of the ground underneath giving way. Some older homes are perpetually in danger from cracks opening up. The subsidence cracks run through surrounding national parks. Rocks crumbling, mountain-sides giving way – what look like land slides of sorts.
It was suggested to us that a build up of salt in the local river ways and creeks is a result from both the mining process of long-walling (underground mining as opposed to open cut mining) as well as from the water ‘recycling’ of the power stations. Coal fired power stations are particularly thirsty, needing huge amounts of water to run. Lithgow’s major coal-fired power station, Mount Piper, owned by Delta, have extraction licenses for the water and buy what water they need.
One example of the affects increased salinity levels in the waterways and creeks is the destruction of the biodiversity of what was a natural swamp. This it was explained was a result of reverse osmosis. This includes the dramatic loss of species, from 100 or more to now 20ish. It was also shown to us there is resulting algae build up in the local creeks.
Another effect from the salt in the area is the rusting of the water pipes in the town. The residents we chatted with said they drank from tap water, but mostly it’s filtered first. However the long term damage to water infrastructure is an issue here.
On Wednesday we thought trying to go on a public tour of Mount Piper power station would be a good learning experience. Trying was the giveaway – when we arrived the police had been called and we’re waiting to explain to us we weren’t welcome.
We turned back into town and instead spent the afternoon on the main street handing out information pamphlets about supporting a just transition away from the dirty coal industry to renewable technologies. This was a positive experience and people were interested in talking with us about the just transition ideas.
In the late afternoon we enjoyed hot chips and said goodbye to some goats who lived by the camping ground we stayed at. We left Lithgow tired but happy.