Story in Brief

Wingecarribee Wetland Collapse

The Collapse

In 1998 "a wetland of National significance was reduced to a torn and twisted wreck which will take 20 years or more to rehabilitate." (Tranter 1998)

Wingecarribee Wetland in the Southern Highlands of NSW, was a unique peat swamp that was rich in flora and home to some endangered plants as well as the rare Giant Dragonfly. The swamp was some 10,000 years old and contained climatic, biological and heritage records.

The swamp, which was owned by the Sydney Water Corporation, filtered water that flowed into the Wingecarribee Reservoir. The Reservoir supplies water to some 40,000 people in Bowral and Robertson, and is a back up water supply for Wollongong and Sydney.

Peat mining had been carried out there since 1967. In 1992 the mining leases expired. Renewal was opposed by several government departments and authorities including:

Their opposition was based on the damage that mining was doing to the Wetland. Only the Department of Mineral Resources argued for renewal of the lease and continuation of mining. It had never refused the renewal of a lease on environmental grounds before.

Mining continued despite the expired leases and in 1997 a Mining Warden's inquiry was held. Although several government departments and agencies, as well as a variety of experts gave evidence of the detrimental impacts of the mining, the Mining Warden recommended that the leases should be renewed.

Mining continued through the inquiry until a temporary conservation order that it be stopped in March 1998. The Mining Warden's report to the Minister had still not been released when the Minister for Mineral Resources recommended that the leases be renewed.

Shortly afterwards heavy rains caused the anchored dredge to break free tearing a channel through the peat to the Reservoir and the swamp collapsed.

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Photo of Wingecarribee Wetland before the collapse by Sydney Catchment Authority

This site has been designed, researched and produced by Sharon Beder

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