Environmental monitoring

 

Since the 2001/2002 wet season, we have undertaken a formal environmental monitoring program encompassing biological, physical, chemical and radiological techniques that are used to monitor and assess impacts upon ecosystems and humans arising from mining activities at Ranger and Jabiluka. The implementation of this program was in response to the Supervising Scientist's recommendations in the 2000 report, Investigation of tailings water leak at the Ranger uranium mine.

Despite the recency of the formal routine program, in place since 2001-02, monitoring data for many indicators date back over several decades as these were gathered as a consequence of the research used in the development of the various monitoring techniques.

In addition to our program, Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) undertakes a statutory monitoring program and the Northern Territory government undertakes check monitoring.

Purpose of the program

The program provides us with independent environmental monitoring data that may be used to assess the extent to which the environment (including people) has been protected from the potential impacts of uranium mining.

How the program works

Information is collected on changes in water and air quality using biological, physical, chemical and radiological techniques:

  • Monitoring of water quality is carried out during the period of creek flow (wet and early dry seasons). Continuous monitoring of physico-chemical water quality variables using multi-probe loggers with event-triggered auto-sampling. This is complemented by water samples taken for radium assessment and water chemistry quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) purposes. Water samples are collected fortnightly from Magela Creek for radium analysis and every 4 weeks for QA/QC from Magela Creek and Gulungul Creek.
  • Biological monitoring includes (i) toxicity monitoring, which takes place every other week in the wet season, (ii) bioaccumulation in freshwater mussels (annually), and (iii) monitoring communities (ecosystem level responses) of some aquatic animals at the end of the wet season.
  • Air quality monitoring for radon gas and dust takes place all year round (radiological monitoring).

Water physico-chemistry analysis and biological monitoring methods (i) and (ii) above provide the capability for early detection of potential significant effects so that early management action can be taken to prevent ecologically important impacts. Biological monitoring method (iii) provides information on the ecological importance (biodiversity assessment) of any observed change in water quality.

Water physico-chemistry is assessed for key variables at sites upstream and downstream of the Ranger and Jabiluka minesites. Samples are collected from Magela and Gulungul Creeks, which run past the Ranger minesite, and Ngarradj (Swift) Creek, which runs past the Jabiluka project area. The Jabiluka project is currently in a long term care and maintenance phase, with much of the small footprint of the area having been rehabilitated.

Water samples collected by SSD staff are analysed in the SSD laboratories (for radionuclides) and by a National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) accredited commercial environmental contract analysis laboratory (for major ions and trace metals).

Biological monitoring  of streams takes place upstream and downstream of Ranger minesite at sites on Magela Creek (method (i) from above), in a Magela Creek site downstream of Ranger and a control site located in another catchment (method (ii)) and at Magela and Gulungul creek sites downstream of Ranger as well as control sites upstream and/or located in control streams unaffected by mining (method (iii)).

Radon monitoring takes place at a station west of Mudginberri community (the closest to Jabiluka) and in Jabiru town (closest to Ranger) and at Jabiru Field Station.

Sample collection points

The locations of the sample collection points are shown on the site maps.

Water quality monitoring data from sampling sites within the minesites are gathered by ERA and are not generally available to the public. However, complete data for the full range of analytes from all of our (offsite) monitoring sites are available on request via email.

More information

More detailed information about our environmental monitoring program is available in an accompanying paper. This background paper will assist in interpreting the website data.

Explanatory Notes

Explanatory Notes on Water Chemistry Results, Toxicity monitoring, Bioaccumulation, Community monitoring and Explanatory Notes on Radon Progeny are also available.

Information about the background to the stream monitoring program is also available on the Aquatic Ecosystem Protection Program page.

Monitoring data

Water chemistry data

Biological monitoring data

Radiological data