Weir saves mine but floods farms

Michelle Slater

AUTHORITIES will work with local farmers to assess the impacts of heavy flooding associated with a weir that was built as part of measures to protect the Yallourn coal mine in heavy rain.

The state government issued approvals last year for works to safeguard Yallourn coal supplies after severe storms and flooding cracked the mine walls, sparking an energy emergency.

Hazelwood operator ENGIE has approval to divert water away from Yallourn and into Hazelwood under certain high-flow conditions. This approval is valid until July 2023.

But a weir along the Morwell River means water had been backing up and inundating paddocks in heavy rain, affecting more than 16 upstream landholders around Hazelwood, Driffield and Yinnar.

Landowners say they were not consulted before the weir was built, nor were notified of any potential impacts from the project.

They were calling on the state government to inspect their properties and discuss compensation for the loss of land use and any property damage from the flooding.

Beef farmer Noel Coxall owns 36 hectares along on the Morwell River, but said about a third of his low-lying paddocks were under water for about a month in August due to the river diversion.

Mr Coxall said it meant he may not be able to cut hay this season due to the sodden paddocks. The project was turning his property into a water storage for mining companies.

“At the moment I’m emptying my hay sheds to keep my stock going. It was this one rain event that it happened, but if Yallourn gets into trouble, it could happen all the time,” Mr Coxall said.

“I don’t think there was much due diligence being done for upstream landowners when they issued permits. It would be nice for them to talk to us to see what they can do.”

The Nationals Member for Gippsland South and Shadow Water Minister, Danny O’Brien, backed calls for the state government to find solutions to the flooding and compensate farmers.

Mr O’Brien said it “beggars belief” that the government failed to consider upstream landholders when solving the problems at Yallourn.

“This is not an argument or not if there was action to protect the Yallourn mine,. This had to happen, but the government hasn’t considered the consequences of their actions,” Mr O’Brien said.

“These farms are on river flats and the landholders are accustomed to some flooding, but this flooding is unnatural and has remained much longer than it should.”

The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning has assured that Southern Rural Water will work with ENGIE and landowners to assess the impacts associated with the diversion.

But DELWP stressed that determining any impacts to landholders was complex and required looking at the potential additional effect of the Hazelwood diversion compared to normal flooding impacts.

“Heights of diversion infrastructure in the Morwell River were lowered to allow for increased flows and Engie will continue to engage with affected landowners to investigate potential impacts as a result of increased rainfall,” a DELWP spokesperson said.

Gippsland Farmer

The Gippsland Farmer is a monthly agricultural newspaper reporting on rural news and distributed FREE and direct to an area covering from Cann River through to South Gippsland. For more than 40 years Gippsland Farmer has reported on a range of issues and industries including dairy, beef, vegetables, sheep, goats, poultry, organic farming, and viticulture.