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Hunter Bioregional Assessment: water drawdown from mining could affect 25% of region

The Commonwealth government has released its bioregional assessment of the Hunter subregion, revealing that 25% of the Hunter could already have been affected by groundwater drawdown caused by mining, and another 5% of the region is likely to be affected if proposed new mines proceed.

The report also indicates that there has been impacts on river systems, particularly in the Goulburn River catchment, and reveal the extensive impact that the Bylong coal mine would have on groundwater if it was approved.

Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Georgina Woods said, “This report shows that a massive area of the Hunter Valley is experiencing negative impacts from coal mining with almost 25% of the region potentially already affected by groundwater drawdown from mining.

“This represents a risk to agriculture in the region, and is even more concerning during a drought like the one we are experiencing at present when farmers are under pressure already and reliant on groundwater.

“The report shows that the 17 proposed new mines and expansions in the region will only make things worse for our groundwater, with water losses expected in the Singleton, Muswellbrook and Jerry’s water sources.”

The Bioregional Assessment reveals that the groundwater drawdown from the Bylong coal mine will effect an area close to 500 square kilometres, more than a quarter of which is in the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage area.

“The Assessment reveals more extensive impacts from the proposed Bylong coal mine on water resources, with predicted impacts on the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.

“However, the impact of this mine on the World Heritage Area has not been considered as part of its assessment so far, which raises major alarm bells about yet more unexpected impacts.

“After recent freedom of information documents revealed that the mine is likely to cause the Bylong River to dry up, now we find that it may also affect groundwater in the World Heritage Area.

“It’s obvious that coal mining should never be allowed in the Bylong Valley and we’re calling on the NSW Government to acknowledge this new information and reject the mine.”

Highlights from the report

Modelling undertaken for the bioregional assessment in the Hunter subregion includes 68 mining operations comprising 41 baseline mines and 17 additional coal resource developments. Several new or expanded mine proposals like United Wambo were not included. Results indicate:

  • There is considerable hydrological impact from extensive mining in the region. The extent of groundwater drawdown of over 0.2m from existing mining could extend to 4,307km2 – or 25% of the study area. This would increase to 5,129km or 30% as a result of the expanded mining.
  • Drawdown of greater than 0.2m is very likely (greater than 95% chance) to occur at distances of 5km from mine sites.
  • Water losses are expected in the Singleton, Muswellbrook and Jerry’s water sources. In the Singleton source, there’s a 50% chance of 4.5GL loss of flow, which is 24% of the annual flow of that water source. (see Table 37 “Impact and risk analysis”).
  • Groundwater drawdown predictions indicate that an area of 494km2 will be affected by drawdown as a result of the proposed Bylong mine, 137km2 of which is in the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area (see section 3.5.4). Up to 12% of the affected area of the Bylong coal mine could see groundwater drawdown of greater than 5m.

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