Troubled waters: WaterNSW doubles down on criticism of Dendrobium expansion

Published: April 20, 2020

Lock the Gate Alliance welcomes WaterNSW’s dogged determination to ensure South32’s Dendrobium coal mine does not further reduce water security for the Greater Sydney Region.

The Alliance also believes it is long past time for the NSW Government to make the Special Areas off-limits to further coal mining. 

In its latest public rebuttal of South32’s plans, WaterNSW reiterates its serious concerns that the proposed expansion would lead to increased surface water drainage, environmental damage, and could threaten existing water supply infrastructure.

The water authority first aired its concerns through a submission in October last year, but in its most recent response published last month, expressed its disappointment that South32 had failed to adequately respond to its concerns.

“WaterNSW remains strongly opposed to this project in its current form as none of its key concerns have been adequately addressed through the Response to Submission,” it wrote in its latest submission.

“(South32’s Response to Submissions) placed too much reliance on ‘post-approval’ management, rather than providing relevant information that would allow key issues to be properly assessed prior to a determination.

“Further, the RTS has not adequately considered or addressed the findings and recommendations from the Final Report of the Independent Expert Panel for Mining in the Catchment.”

Among WaterNSW’s most serious concerns with the Dendrobium expansion are:

  • The additional surface water losses from the expansion would be up to 5.2 ML/day. WaterNSW is concerned that these predictions by the company may be underestimating the full extent of surface water losses from the catchment. 

  • Nine major watercourses and approximately 100 smaller tributaries are expected to experience fracturing as a result of the expansion, including the Avon and Cordeaux Rivers, which are downstream of the reservoirs and feed into Pheasants Nest Weir - a major component of the water supply system.

  • Potential water quality impacts from the extensive stream fracturing that is predicted.

  • Setbacks from the two dam walls (Cordeaux and Avon) should be increased to at least 1,500 metres due to potential far-field differential movements. “Should any impacts occur to these dams, there is the potential that the risks and consequences could be extreme.”

Lock the Gate Alliance NSW Community Coordinator Nic Clyde said South32’s decision not to address WaterNSW’s concerns showed an arrogance and lack of respect for all who depended on the drinking water catchment area.

“WaterNSW hasn’t pulled any punches with its latest submission, because South32’s plans would negatively impact its core responsibility of delivering water to Greater Sydney’s residents,” he said.

“The Dendrobium mine has already caused serious damage in the region which has led to loss of surface water.

“In 2018, it was revealed six billion litres of water had been diverted from creeks feeding Sydney water catchments into underground coal mines in the Special Areas.

“We have only recently emerged from one of the worst droughts in history, yet South32 wants to put our water supply in further jeopardy.

“The government needs to declare the Special Areas off-limits to new coal mining."

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Content on this site is authorised by Georgina Woods for Lock the Gate Alliance, Lismore NSW.