A new report commissioned by the Lock the Gate Alliance found that water in the Hunter is severely impacted by the growing mining industry in the region.
The “Unfair Shares” report by Hydrocology Consulting revealed that mining is having a major impact on Hunter’s ground and surface water, increasing salinity and threatening agricultural land.
According to the article on ABC, the report found that today’s mines covered 18 times the area they did in 1981, and last year used 88.5 billion litres of Hunter water. It also predicted the number to grow to 133 billion litres a year, if new and proposed mines were realised.
It said coal mines owned entitlements to 143 billion litres of water, and more than half of the “high security” licences, which gave holders preferential access during droughts.
Lock the Gate Hunter Region coordinator Steve Phillips said the state government was failing to consider mining’s cumulative impact on water resources.
According to him, the Alliance commissioned the report on coal mine water entitlements to improve public knowledge about the industry’s grip on the region’s water supplies.
“So we basically thought there was a knowledge gap there that somebody had to fill. Its results are quite alarming. Essentially it shows the coal mines in the Hunter Region own and control huge volumes of water,” he said.
“That they’re changing the flow of the Hunter River, having impacts on salinity and putting other water users in the valley at risk.”
The report – which also features eight recommendations designed to level the playing field for water licences, improve monitoring and accountability, create “no-go zones” around streams and veto proposal for mines that would increase salinity – was swiftly rejected by the New South Wales Minerals Council.
The Minerals Council’s Director of Industry and Environment, David Frith, said he was not surprised that an anti-mining group has released a report critical of the coal industry.
He said checks and balances were already in place to protect the environment.
“Mines have to be licensed for any water they use, just like any other water user. So, they’re subject to the same restrictions and the same controls as other users,” he said.
“The majority of the water they use is actually lower quality water that isn’t actually suitable for other uses such as agriculture, and we recycle and reuse a lot of that water on site. So, we’re not actually competing for that higher quality water with other water users.”
Mr Frith also pointed out that the majority of water rights in the Hunter were not held by mining companies.
“The mining industry is a significant industry and an economic contributor in the Hunter Valley, so it’s no surprise that it holds a reasonable share of water entitlements in the region,” he said.
“But as the (report) authors point out, the majority of water rights, in fact 77%, are held by other water users in the region. I think that’s an important point to realised.”