Coal mines are draining Sydney’s water

A WaterNSW submission to the ongoing Independent Expert Panel into Mining in Sydney’s Catchment has highlighted the destructive impact coal mining is having on the Sydney Water Catchment Area.

It called for curbs on two big coal mines in Sydney's catchment, saying millions of litres of water are being lost daily and environmental impacts are likely breaching approval conditions.

Alarmingly, the submission stated: “Environmental consequences from mining in the Special Areas are greater than predicted when the mining was proposed and approved.

“Some of these environmental consequences have caused (or are likely to cause) breaches of conditions in the relevant development consents, including performance criteria to protect watercourses and Sydney’s drinking water catchment.”

The submission called for improvements in the regulation of mining in the catchment area and crucially states: “No further approvals should be given for mining that would permit the level of environmental impacts and consequences that have occurred in Wongawilli Creek, WC21, and Swamps 1a, 1b and 5 at Dendrobium, and Waratah Rivulet and Eastern Tributary at Metropolitan.”

It also called for extra monitoring and analysis to be paid for by mining companies and for estimates to be made on how much water was being lost to reservoirs through cracks, caused by subsidence after the coal is extracted.

WaterNSW noted mining-related surface water losses at Dendrobium alone were 1.28 billion litres a year. One previously permanent water course is now dry for 1.7 kilometres or 90% of its length, causing “complete aquatic habitat loss”. Species affected include the vulnerable Littlejohn’s tree frog.

Research by Sydney Water shows catchment levels across 11 dams in Greater Sydney are dropping faster than they have in decades. In the past two years, levels have dropped from a combined capacity of 96% to just under 55%, falling by around 0.4% a week.

Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Georgina Woods said a moratorium on new mines and expansions of existing mines must be implemented immediately to protect Sydney’s water.

She said WaterNSW’s submission followed revelations late last year that 6 billion litres of water had been diverted from creeks feeding Sydney water catchments into underground coal mines in the Special Areas.

“Mining company and NSW government assurances that expanded coal mining under Sydney’s water catchment would not do serious damage were misplaced,” Woods said. “This catchment supplies water to our biggest city — a growing city that is facing drought and needs to take every precaution to safeguard precious water.

“There are new and expanded coal mining proposals in these areas being considered by the Department of Planning and the government needs to immediately pause these projects.

“Any waste of water in the catchment of a growing city is reckless and unacceptable. We call on the premier to impose a moratorium on any further coal mining approvals in the Special Areas while we await the final report of the Expert Panel.”

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