Botany Sand Beds aquifer
A strategy for managing groundwater use in the Botany area
The NSW Government is continuing its management of groundwater use in areas that sit above the Botany Sand Beds aquifer. A precautionary approach was adopted as a number of contaminated sites have resulted in the contamination of groundwater in the aquifer and there was an increase in groundwater use in the area due to the recent extensive drought.
The Botany Sand Beds aquifer is a large volume of underground water present in the sandy ground surrounding Botany Bay. The aquifer is highly vulnerable to contamination due to the permeability of the sands and the generally shallow water table. Any contamination from land use activity that escapes or is spilled onto the ground is likely to accumulate in the earth and leach into the groundwater.
Botany and its surrounding suburbs have been heavily used by industry for at least 100 years. This was largely before any environmental protection controls were in place and at that time basic measures to prevent pollution were not considered to be necessary. This legacy is what we are now dealing with, in Australia and around the world.
A range of industries operated in the Botany area such as tanneries, metal platers, service stations and depots, landfills, dry cleaners and wool scourers. As a result, chemicals such as chlorinated hydrocarbons and other solvents, petroleum hydrocarbons (such as petrol and diesel), and some heavy metals such as chromium, nickel, lead and arsenic, may have contaminated the aquifer.
NSW has the most robust contaminated land management legislation in Australia. There are currently eight sites in the area which the NSW EPA regulates under this legislation. Four of these sites have been cleaned up and the remaining four are either in the process of being cleaned up or have a site plan in development.
However, given the history of the area, shallow water table and highly permeable soils, a precautionary approach to managing groundwater use in the area is needed.
Whilst only a small proportion of the aquifer area is known to be contaminated, the legacy of past activities could have affected the groundwater in other locations. Because of this, the NSW Government has taken a precautionary approach to ensure public health is not put at risk from exposure to potentially contaminated groundwater.
Under the precautionary approach the NSW Government has:
- Divided the area into four management zones: the pre-existing Orica exclusion area (Zone 1) and three other management zones (Zones 2 to 4)
- Banned the domestic use of groundwater in Zones 2 to 4
- Instructed industrial users in Zones 2 to 4 to test their bore water annually and provide the results to the NSW Government
- Since August 2003 has operated an embargo on the acceptance of new licence applications to extract groundwater. See the groundwater embargo area map (PDF 2.5 MB)
- Extended the Botany embargo in June 2007 to encompass the entire Botany Sands aquifer. See the June 2007 embargo notice and map (PDF 785 KB).
The Botany area has been divided into four management zones based on what the NSW Government knows about contamination in the area and the way groundwater moves underground. These zones have been coloured red and yellow. Residents should identify which zone they live in by referring to the Groundwater Management Zones map (PDF 185 KB).
- Zone 1 (red)
This zone is the existing Groundwater Extraction Exclusion Area around the Orica site. Management for this zone has not changed and the use of groundwater remains banned
- Zones 2 to 4 (yellow)
Residents in these new zones are advised that domestic groundwater use is banned, especially for drinking water, watering gardens, washing windows and cars, bathing, or to fill swimming pools
Banning the domestic use of groundwater
All domestic bore water use is banned in Zones 2 to 4. This includes using groundwater for drinking, watering gardens, washing cars and other domestic purposes. This will minimise the risk to bore water users and prevent the spread of contamination through pumping. The sites from which the contamination has occurred are being cleaned up under the most robust contaminated land management legislation in Australia.
Annual bore water testing for industry
The NSW Government now requires all licensed industrial bore water users in Zones 1 to 4 (red and yellow) to test their bore water at least annually and provide the results to the NSW Office of Water and the NSW EPA.
This will ensure industrial bore water is fit for the purpose it is being used for and help the NSW Government gain a better understanding of the extent and nature of any contamination in the area.
The precautionary approach encourages residents and industry to work together with the NSW Government to protect the health of the Botany Sand Beds aquifer and the broader community.
Bore water users in all of the management zones are being asked to cooperate with the ban on groundwater use for any purpose. However, all residents in the Botany area can help protect the health of the community through sensible water and chemical use, and reporting suspected contamination.
All residents can help minimise groundwater contamination by avoiding the use of greywater (eg. used washing machine water) on gardens, minimising fertiliser application, and storing and disposing of chemicals, waste fuel and paints safely.
Suspected contamination incidents should be reported to the Office of Environment and Heritage's Environment Line on 131 555.
|If you don't have a bore||you should minimise the use of domestic chemicals and fertiliser, and report any suspected contamination.|
|If you have a bore in Zones 1-4 (red and yellow)||you should stop using bore water immediately, and report any suspected contamination.|
Residents concerned about possible health risks from previous exposure to groundwater in the red or yellow zones are encouraged to contact South Eastern Sydney Illawarra Public Health Unit on 02 9382 8333, or write to the Director, Public Health Unit, Locked Bag 88, Randwick NSW 2031.
Contamination at the Orica complex
For more information on the groundwater contamination at the Orica complex, please visit Orica's Botany Transformation Projects website or call Orica's Community Hotline 1800 025 138.