Open slather on water use

THE coal industry has been given open slather on the state’s water resource under new water sharing regulations.

In the past all water users had to abide by strict rules governing water sharing, in particular preventing water being pumped in times of drought.

Under the new laws projects approved for development under Part 3A of the Environment and Planning Assessment Act (1979) including all the region’s major coal mines would be exempt from this regulation.

The changes passed through state parliament in March this year and were entitled Water Sharing Plan for the Hunter Unregulated Alluvial Water Sources Amendment Order 2013.

Hunter Water Sharing (WSP) covers 39 water sources including locally Wollombi Brook, Doyles Creek, Black Creek, Glendon Brook and aquifers throughout the district.

Hunter Water Users Association president Arthur Burns said he was not happy with the new rules and the fact there was absolutely no community consultation before they were enacted.

“They were just a fait accompli, nothing we could do about them, we never heard about the changes before they became law,” Mr Burns said.

He said exempting the major mines and other state significant developments from rules governing other water users was dangerous and could ultimately affect all the Hunter’s water users.

“Its about the unregulated water sources in the region but take the Wollombi Brook for example it has a big impact on the Hunter River’s water flows,” he said.

Mr Burns will be attending a meeting this week to discuss the issue and hopes to raise public awareness about the changes.

EDO NSW (formerly the Environment Defenders Office New South Wales) policy and law reform solicitor Emma Carmody has written an article in Australian Environment Review commenting on the legislative amendments.

In her article she describes the Hunter region as being home to 20 of the largest coal mines in the world.

“These mines are located within a catchment characterised by a high degree of connectivity between up-river alluvial aquifers and surface water resources as well as numerous ground-water dependent ecosystems.

“Of particular concern are changes to rules originally intended to protect alluvial aquifers during periods of low flow.

“Specifically, all water taken under aquifer access licence for the purposes of a development approved under Part 3A (if it is a state significant development) is now exempt from cease to pump rules.

“Consequently, all large coal mining developments will be permitted to continue extracting water from alluvial aquifers during periods of ‘very low flow’ which necessarily includes periods of drought.”

She states the amendments including more than 100 changes but despite this the Minister for Primary Industries was not required under the act to consult with the community before making the order.

Various state government departments failed to respond to enquiries by The Singleton Argus yesterday.