EDITORIAL: The lake’s mystery pollution

LAKE Macquarie is in better shape now than it has been for years, but that’s no reason to be complacent.

In the early 1980s, alarmingly negative environmental surveys of the lake and its ecosystems shocked the community and led to sustained calls for an over-arching lake authority.

The lake was being polluted and harmed in a variety of ways, and while several government authorities had particular responsibilities for aspects of its welfare, many problems fell between the cracks.

The government resisted establishing a single lake authority, perhaps because it would have been expensive and may have made life awkward for some then state-owned enterprises, notably the power stations and coalmines.

These days, with better co-ordination, better laws and a far more alert and proactive council, things have markedly improved.

But problems remain, and it doesn’t hurt to remind the authorities – including the council – that preserving and restoring the lake’s ecosystems is a full-time and never-ending job.

The power stations have improved their environmental performance. But evolving public expectations mean they must be required to continually upgrade their systems to further reduce pollution and ecosystem damage, and to rectify problems caused by past practices.

Many other legacies of past abuses remain dotted around the edges of the lake.

In 2010, while expanding its popular children’s playground at Speers Point Park, Lake Macquarie City Council was obliged to remove a quantity of contaminated soil from a former rubbish dump beneath the site.

Heavy metals underlie the sediments of Cockle Creek and the area beyond its mouth, thanks to the former longtime Boolaroo lead and zinc smelter. 

And now community groups are worried that high levels of metals and toxins in the lake and its feeder creeks may be caused by leachates from mining operations or other old rubbish dumps.

A former council environmental officer has added his voice to concerns, suggesting that the council’s Awaba tip and some coal operations may be to blame for some of the apparent pollution.

The council prides itself on its green credentials and spends a lot of money on environmental projects. Faced with fundamental concerns about water quality and high concentrations of toxins from unknown sources, it should be anxious to pinpoint the sources of the problems and to find effective ways of dealing with them.

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