Thirlmere Lakes was once a thriving natural waterway but recent drought conditions have turned the iconic spot into cracked, dry earth.
In the past decade the lakes have been slowly shrinking but warm weather has seen the last pockets of remaining water disappear.
Friends of Thirlmere Lakes member David Hunt said the three main lakes were now completely dry apart from a few puddles.
“It is certainly disheartening to lose such a valuable free community amenity,” he said.
“It was not so long ago water activities focusing around the jetty at the swimming lake (Couridjah) were a feature of birthday parties, school holiday activities and more.
“The lakes were the first stop for overseas visitors who wanted to experience Australian nature.”
Mr Hunt said heavy rainfall probably wouldn’t be enough to see the lakes recover.
“We’ve had many instances of heavy rainfall since the lakes emptied and the water level hasn’t increased by more than 500mm,” he said.
“Sustained rainfall over many months would be needed for a major increase, but this would be unlikely to remain for long – until the pumps are stopped at the mines to allow the water table to recover.
“The mines, even when operations are suspended, continue pumping [water from the lakes].”
Multiple studies have been conducted on the affects of mining at Thirlmere Lakes.
Mr Hunt said mining drainage was the primary cause of the lake’s low water levels but the drought had exacerbated the problem.
He said the lakes were an important natural resource that allowed people to enjoy time in the native environment.
“There used be speedboats and fishing at one of the lakes and swimming at the jetty before it was removed, now the lakes are empty except for a few puddles,” he said.
“The lakes are not only a recreation area for south-west Sydney and further afield, but they are also a very important heritage system which helps ensure the longevity of our country’s biodiversity of plants and animals.”
A scientific study funded by the government is currently under way to investigate the loss of water at Thirlmere Lakes.
“The study includes investigation work by various governing bodies,” Mr Hunt said.
“Its [findings] are awaited with interest.”