The Lock the Gate Alliance welcomes the Chief Scientist's observations and recommendations regarding the risks and impacts of mining activities on groundwater in New South Wales. The Alliance supports the creation of a new, independent and statutory NSW Water Resources Impacts Commission, as recommended by the report.
Alliance spokesperson and Gunnedah farmer Phil Herbert said, “Coal and gas companies keep telling everyone there won't be draw down and contamination of groundwater from their interference with aquifers. Well this report backs what we've been saying all along -- there's no confidence in these predictions without proper base line data, and proper modelling.
“Too often, mining companies fudge their environmental assessments when it comes to groundwater. We don't want to find out afterwards that irreversible damage has been done - the stakes are too high for that.
"When you get a report from the chief scientist saying we don't know enough to be accurate and confident about the impact on groundwater from coal and coal seam gas mining, that's enough of a warning for a moratorium to be declared while the data is collected and the modelling undertaken. We're calling on the NSW Government to urgently introduce such a moratorium off the back of this report"
"We're also calling for some long-term certainty for farmers - we need no-go areas for mining in groundwater recharge areas, alluvial aquifers and rivers. It's just not safe to drill, undermine and open cut the lifeblood of NSW farming communities.
"We support the concept of an independent statutory authority, the NSW Water Resources Impacts Commission, as proposed by the Chief Scientist, but only if it is backed by a moratorium and strict no-go zones to protect our most precious water resources. Otherwise, it's likely to become yet another talkfest that delivers no genuine protection for our water supplies" he said.
Key quotes from the report (available here):
- Our use of groundwater has increased five-fold since 1983
- “the use, fate and vulnerability of groundwater resources is a crucial environmental and economic issue"
- "baseline data is missing for many projects, and interpolation methods must be used to establish these. Without accurate baseline understanding, efforts to attribute impacts to activities can be fraught."
- "Where regional-scale monitoring is done, it may fail to detect local impacts, which can be significant in their effect. For example draw-down of an aquifer can cause net migration of water from nearby rivers and streambeds to aquifers resulting in the mobilisation and leaching of some metals (e.g. iron, trace arsenic) from the surrounding rocks and soils."
- The report recommends collecting more data, including baseline data, and making this generally accessible, characterising NSW groundwater, and setting up a formal structure to assess impacts and reduce uncertainty, using an independent expert technical committee.