Nearly one-third of the Hunter's groundwater resources could be affected by mining

Warning: Julia Imrie in the dry bed of the Goulburn River. A Federal Government assessment has confirmed residents' long-held concerns about mining-related water impacts.
Warning: Julia Imrie in the dry bed of the Goulburn River. A Federal Government assessment has confirmed residents' long-held concerns about mining-related water impacts.

NEARLY one third of the Hunter could be affected by mining-related groundwater drawdown if new and controversial coal mines are approved, a Federal Government assessment of the region’s water resources has revealed.

About one quarter of the region could already be affected by groundwater drawdown caused by mining, with major impacts already identified in the Goulburn River catchment where three major mines – Wilpinjong, Ulan and Moolarben – already operate and a fourth, the proposed Kepco Bylong mine, is being assessed by the NSW Government.

The controversial new Korean Government-backed Bylong coal mine between Denman and Mudgee could have a severe impact on groundwater if approved, the Hunter sub-region assessment released by the Federal Government on Wednesday showed.

The major mine to produce coal for Korean domestic use could affect an area close to 500 square kilometres, more than a quarter of which is in the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage area.

Operations: Trucks at the Moolarben mine between Denman and Mudgee, in an area where three major mines currently operate in the vicinity of the Goulburn River.

Operations: Trucks at the Moolarben mine between Denman and Mudgee, in an area where three major mines currently operate in the vicinity of the Goulburn River.

The Federal Government assessment comes just weeks after freedom of information documents revealed the Bylong mine is likely to cause the Bylong River to dry up under certain conditions.

The federal assessment considered how 22 potential new coal mines or expansions of existing coal mines could affect groundwater and surface water resources in the Hunter subregion which includes an area from Newcastle to Muswellbrook and west to include Bylong and surrounds, the Central Coast and parts of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage area.

It found an area of 2441 square kilometres could experience groundwater drawdown due to potential new mines or mine expansions.

“Large changes in flow regime are possible in Wyong River, Loders Creek, Saddlers Creek, Wollar Creek and a number of ephemeral creeks,” the assessment found.

“About 1228 kilometres of streams and 102 square kilometres of groundwater-dependent ecosystems – mainly rainforests, forested wetlands, and wet and dry sclerophyll forests – are potentially affected by changes in groundwater or surface water.”

Modelling showed “management of the Hunter Regulated River or the reliability of water supply in some unregulated streams” could also be affected by mining-related groundwater drawdown.

Diverted: The steep sides of the Goulburn River on the southern boundary of Ulan coal mine. Four kilometres of the river were diverted in the 1980s to allow for mining.

Diverted: The steep sides of the Goulburn River on the southern boundary of Ulan coal mine. Four kilometres of the river were diverted in the 1980s to allow for mining.

It found there was already “considerable hydrological impact from extensive mining in the region”, with water losses expected in the Singleton, Muswellbrook and Jerry’s Plains water sources.

The assessment found there was a 50 per cent chance that Singleton’s water sources would experience a 4.5 gigalitre loss of flow, or 24 per cent of the annual flow of that water source.

Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Georgina Woods said the assessment showed a large part of the Hunter region could already be experiencing negative water impacts from coal mining.

“This represents a major possible impact on agriculture in the region, and is even more devastating during a severe drought like that we are experiencing at present when farmers are already under pressure,” Ms Woods said.

“The assessment reveals more extensive impacts from the proposed Bylong coal mine on water resources, with predicted impacts on the Blue Mountains World Heritage area.

Dry: Environment campaigners Bev Smiles and Julia Imrie in a section of the Goulburn River where water flow into the river is controlled by Ulan mine discharges.

Dry: Environment campaigners Bev Smiles and Julia Imrie in a section of the Goulburn River where water flow into the river is controlled by Ulan mine discharges.

“But the impact of this mine on the World Heritage Area has not been considered as part of its assessment so far, which raises major alarm bells about yet more unexpected impacts.”

Lock the Gate called on the NSW Government to acknowledge the water assessments from the federal government and reject the proposed Bylong mine.

In January Goulburn River property owner Julia Imrie, who is completing a doctorate on water impacts within the area, was part of a revived campaign to protect the iconic The Drip gorge near Ulan from further groundwater and surface water impacts caused by mining.

“Open cut and longwall coal mining in the headwaters of the river at Ulan have been extracting increasing amounts of groundwater and intercepting rainfall runoff for many years,” Ms Imrie said.

“Plans for more underground mining close to the Goulburn River puts it at further risk, especially if tunnels are permitted under the river to allow mining to the north, behind The Drip.”