By Rosemary Madacsi

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The Darling Ranges extend from the Moore River region in the north, to south of Pemberton. When viewed from space, the ranges are seen as a dark zone of vegetation, roughly paralleling the west coast, and forming the eastern boundary of the Swan Coastal Plain. This area separates the Wheatbelt and the Swan Coastal Plain groundwater systems. Large tracts of these ranges are designated Water Catchment areas, National Parks, and Reserves.

Within this area, since 1970, rainfall has decreased by 15% and surface runoff by 60%

Surface runoff and groundwater from the Darling Ranges feeds seven major dams; Mundaring Weir, Serpentine, Wungong, Churchman’s Brook, North Dandalup Dam, South Dandalup Dam, and the Canning Dam.

These dams supply coastal populations and inland through to Kalgoorlie. Groundwater within the ranges tends to be localised within rock fractures or as shallow aquifers above country rock.

Within in the ranges, population, agricultural enterprises and land clearing have all increased. At the same time, legislation has permitted the development of industries which have a high potential risk to water resources, including over exploitation and pollution.

The South West Seismic Zone, which extends along the eastern boundary of the ranges, and which is one of the most seismically active areas in Australia, has been demonstrated to play a significant role in the movement of groundwater within the Darling Range area.

Outside of Perth and those towns serviced by the Goldfields pipeline, people are dependent on surface and groundwater resources.

But there's a problem

To date, legislation has failed to protect our surface and groundwater resources.

The Department of Environment Regulation (DER), which approves the development of such industries, lacks the funding to adequately monitor the construction phases and going operations.

The Department of Water which evaluates potential water impacts does not have comprehensive data and relies on proponent reports. Again, this demonstrates a lack of support for a Department responsible for managing our water resources.

Communities which have an investment in natural resources are able to question and appeal government decisions. There are paths for appeal, however the data required can be complex, scattered, and costly to obtain. Accordingly, such appeals are often beyond a community's capability.

Today, operations of bauxite and other strip mining occur across the ranges with many more leases pending development.

Private landfill operators have been moving into the ranges to utilise unsuitable sites, since the government stopped licensing new landfills on the Swan Coastal Plain. These operations avoid landfill levies, metropolitan monitoring restrictions and ‘self report’.

It is unfortunate for regional WA that there is no rural waste management strategy to identify and define suitable locations, nor to regulate waste disposal operations.

As a consequence, two large operators SUEZ/SITA and Opal Vale Pty Ltd chose sites in water sensitive areas. SUEZ/SITA has now withdrawn, but the Opal Vale site near Toodyay is located approximately one kilometre from an active fault line.

Modern landfill engineering design has not yet demonstrated that the science available can control nature, and hence, secure the contents of a landfill. Once pollutants enter the groundwater system, remediation is extremely expensive and then cannot be guaranteed for the long term.

Here’s what we’re doing about it

Across the Darling Ranges there are many individual groups actively seeking environmental excellence from government. These groups, many of which have formed alliances, are working to combat the rapidly growing threats to our water resources. Collectively we have increased recognition of seismic activity in the Darling Ranges, brought attention to the complexity of groundwater resources, and raised the profile of these issues.

We are working to protect water resources through education and legislative change, based on solid science, local knowledge and common sense. The approach is to educate the public and regulatory departments, engage in informed dialogue with government and with industry representatives.

To date, our successes have seen the DER raise the standards for landfills. Further, we have influenced planning conditions in local government and regional organisations, through strategies to better protect water resources.

We have lobbied strongly against poorly planned proposals in water rich zones near productive farming lands and residential areas; petitioned the State Legislative Assembly; briefed local representatives and the media, and lodged appeals and technical reports. Currently we are challenging a DER process for the Opal Vale landfill in the Supreme Court.

There is still much to be done,

You can join us

We are seeking at least $30,000 in funds to help towards achieving our goals.

We have people. We have expertise. We need funds.

Be part of the solution.

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Team Members

Rosemary Madacsi

Helen Evans