The development of a new Water Sharing Plan for the hard rock aquifers being dewatered by coal mining in the Hunter Valley is an opportunity for the NSW Government to put long-awaited limits on the groundwater impacts of mining, Lock the Gate said today at the start of National Water Week.
Lock the Gate Alliance has written to the NSW Government welcoming news that the Water Sharing Plan is being developed, and calling for an embargo on the grant of any new water licences to coal companies until such time as the Plan is gazetted.
At present, coal mining companies are still applying for licences under a century-old water law and there are risks that existing extraction by them is already unsustainable.
The Northern Fractured and Porous Rock Aquifers, for which the plan is being developed, includeHunter Valley aquifers that have been heavily affected by open cut mining and currently have no cap on extraction levels or transparent reporting of their exploitation.
"Coal mines are removing large volumes of water from these fractured rock aquifers in the Hunter with little oversight, no sustainable cap and dramatic potential consequences for the region" said Lock the Gate spokesperson Georgina Woods.
“We estimate that Hunter coal mining companies may already hold water licences allowing up to 81 billion litres of groundwater to be extracted each year for the purposes of mine dewatering under the Water Act 1912.
"In addition to the severe impacts from mine dewatering, coal mining is also causing leakages from rivers and precious alluvial aquifers into mine pits.
"There are new licence applications pending for these hard rock aquifers by coal mining companies and there is a grave risk that any further licences risk breaching sustainable limits and locking in over-exploitation.
“We're really pleased the NSW Government is moving to introduce this Water Sharing Plan, but in National Water Week it must deliver sustainable limits and there needs to be an interim embargo in place on water licences until it is completed.
"The NSW Government also needs to put an end to mining companies being granted permission to mine directly into or very near the alluvial aquifers that provide good irrigation water for our agricultural industries," she said.