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Lock the Gate questions legality of billions of litres of rainfall captured by NSW coal mines

Revelations on ABC News last night that the Maules Creek coal mine in the state’s North West captured over a billion litres of rainfall it was not licenced to take and use has raised questions about the legality of water capture by the Hunter Valley mining industry.

Lock the Gate referred its investigation into Maules Creek coal mine’s unlicensed take of surface water to the Natural Resources Access Regulator and says it suspects the unlawful take of water is widespread across the coal industry.

According to aggregate figures released by the NSW Minerals Council, the mining industry in the Hunter region extracted 5.7GL from the Hunter River system in 2016, but the industry captured 40GL of rainfall runoff which would otherwise be part of the surface water flow,  equivalent to 5.75% of the mean annual flow of the Hunter River at Singleton.

Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Georgina Woods said, “The mining industry doesn’t have to pump a lot of water from the river, because it captures rainfall run-off across its huge landholding and uses that water to run the mines.

“The industry’s own figures indicate this captured run-off makes up 55% of the water used by the industry.

“Under NSW water law, landholders are not allowed to catch all the water on their properties for free beyond a basic minimal right. The volume of water being taken in this manner by the coal mines in the Hunter goes for beyond that minimal right and requires licencing because that water is part of the water sharing plans that apply to all water users in the Hunter.

“If the unlawful take of water at Maules Creek is being repeated across the state by the coal mining industry, if the entire coal mining industry is engaging in a blatant legal dodge to take water out of our river systems, then the State Government must act swiftly and decisively.

“In a time of drought, we can’t afford to let the coal mines steal water scot-free. There must be consequences.”

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.

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