The NSW Natural Resources Access Regulator has commenced an investigation into the capture of surface water by mining companies, as farmers in north-west NSW claim that Maules Creek coal mine has captured millions of litres of water without obtaining water licences.
Lock the Gate Alliance will present analysis of the massive capture of rainwater by the coal mining industry at a special hearing this afternoon of the Senate Inquiry into Water Use by the Extractive Industries.
Analysis presented will show that coal mines like Maules Creek coal have not obtained licences for the huge amount of water they capture as surface run-off and seem to be relying on a legally dubious exemption to avoid licensing requirements that apply to other landholders.
Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Carmel Flint said, “There is a legal cloud hanging over the water take of the Maules Creek coal mine and other NSW coal mines.
“We have recently referred this matter to the Natural Resources Access Regulator, which has agreed to investigate, because we believe that there are no valid legal grounds for the mining industry using billions of litres of water a year which it has no licence to take.
“As the drought bites hard it is scandalous for the mining industry to take water it is not licenced to use and we’re calling on the Minister for Regional Water, Niall Blair, to intervene urgently and get the mining industry under control,” she said.
Lower Maules Creek grazier Sally Hunter said, “We are struggling with a devastating drought and are gob-smacked to learn that the Maules Creek coal mine is capturing vast quantities of water without holding the relevant water licences.
“It seems that mining companies are intercepting large volumes of surface water entirely outside the water planning system that the rest of us have to abide by. It’s an outrageous double-standard.
“The farming community has been forced to accept reductions in water allocations over the last decade so we are floored to learn that big mining has come in and dodged the rules.
“For the mines to be capturing this water means that there is less water running into our creeks and rivers and recharging our groundwater. The scale of the take and the changes to the landscape caused by mining are having a flow on effect,” she said.
Mines intercept large volumes of rainfall during operations, most of which is caught in dams and used to run mining operations.
The 2016 Annual Review for the Maules Creek Coal Mine (the most current review available) indicates that total inflows to the mine from rainfall and runoff in 2016 were 1,860ML.
However, a search of Water Access Licences (WAL) titles with Land and Property Information indicates that Maules Creek mine holds only a single WAL for surface water take in the Maules Creek water source, being WAL41585, with a share component of just 30ML.
Whilst there is a harvestable rights exemption which gives landholders rights to take 10% of runoff on land which they hold, analysis suggests that the Maules Ck mine far exceeds any harvestable rights they may have.