An open letter from eight former agronomists and soil scientists, including five who worked for the Department of Primary Industries, has urged NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to halt Shenhua’s Watermark coalmine and protect the Liverpool Plains from mining.
The letter said the agreement the government reached last month with Shenhua to renew its coal exploration licence, paving the way for the mine to proceed, puts at risk “the future of one of the major contributors to food and fibre security”.
Last month the government paid Shenhua $262 million for just over half the exploration licence area of the proposed mine at Watermark in northern NSW. Energy Minister Don Harwin said the buyback would ensure there was no mining on the fertile black soils of the plains.
But the agronomists said limiting the proposed open cut mine to ridges would still likely affect surface and groundwater flows in the plains and downstream regions.
"The claim that mining the ridges above Breeza will not have an impact on farming operations is false and ignorant," the letter said.
"Hydrogeological investigations have shown that there is a high degree of connectivity between the alluvial aquifers throughout the Namoi Valley."
One of the letter’s authors Brian Tomalin, a retired cattle farmer and former Namoi Catchment Management board member, said endangered ecological communities, such as white box woodlands, were also at risk from the impact of an open pit of up to 300 metres.
"There's more at stake than just the agriculture," he said. "If you drain the alluvial aquifers you'll never get them back."
Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Phil Laird said: “Premier Berejiklian needs to act before it’s too late and cancel that coal licence.
“All the excuses about mining on the ridges not affecting the farmland below are absurd, as these experts make clear. The landscape doesn’t work like that. Underground water doesn’t work like that.
“Premier Berejiklian must stop this mine and cancel this coal licence. She must end the uncertainty that the farmers of the Liverpool Plains have been living with for nearly ten years and make this outstanding area off-limits to coal and gas mining forever.”