First of its kind report shows low volume of Hunter River water used by mining

New figures released today show the relatively low volume of water from the Hunter River system used by mining operations during 2014 and 2015, only using up to 3 per cent of the total water flowing through the river system in the Upper Hunter.

The figures are from the Upper Hunter Mining Dialogue (UHMD) water accounting project, with the first two years’ data now compiled. The water accounting project, the first ever of its kind in NSW, was initiated through the Upper Hunter Mining Dialogue to gain a better understanding of mining’s interaction with water resources in the region and identify opportunities for water management improvements.

The UHMD brings together the mining industry with local residents, businesses, environmental groups and regulators to work together to minimise the cumulative impacts of mining.

As part of the Water Accounting Project, all mines in the Upper Hunter have adopted a standardised water accounting framework developed by the Minerals Council of Australia and the University of Queensland. The standardised framework allows consistent reporting of water coming into mining operations (e.g. from rivers, groundwater and rainfall) and leaving mining operations (e.g. by evaporation, discharges to the river system or contained in coal leaving the site) in terms of both volumes of water and water quality. The UHMD Water Accounting Project focuses on the Hunter River and its tributaries from Glenbawn Dam downstream to Singleton – where Upper Hunter mines and the major water supply dams are located.

The two years’ data highlight the difference between wetter and drier years, with 2014 having lower rainfall than average and 2015 having higher rainfall than average. As a result, 2015 saw a much greater volume of water entering the river system; increases in mine water storage volumes; and greater opportunities for mines to discharge water under the Hunter River Salinity Trading Scheme.

“The Upper Hunter coal industry is proud to be at the cutting edge of this aspect of water management. We understand water usage is something in which the community has a strong interest. We want to be able to clearly show the Upper Hunter community how mining interacts with our water resources,” said Greg Sullivan, Director Policy for the NSW Minerals Council.

“It’s great to see the local mining industry taking the initiative and working with the community through the Upper Hunter Mining Dialogue on a project that gives a clear indication of how mining manages water usage,” said Ken Bray from the Hunter Valley Water Users Association.

Upper Hunter mines get their water from a variety of sources, and must be licenced for any water they take from rivers and groundwater. In 2015, only 6 per cent of mine water came from rivers and alluvial aquifers, while 90 per cent of mine water came from rainfall and runoff captured on mine sites and from lower quality water largely obtained from coal seams, which has few other uses.

The Hunter River Salinity Trading Scheme ensures river water quality is maintained by only permitting mines to discharge excess water at times when river flows are high. Even with the higher volumes of mine water discharged to the Hunter River system during 2015, only 1.8 gigalitres of water was discharged during the year – just 0.5 per cent of the total volume of water that flowed past Singleton during the year.

The water accounting project makes the Upper Hunter mining industry a leader in this aspect of water management not only within the mining industry, but across all industries. Water data can now be reliably aggregated across different mining operations to assess the industry’s overall water impacts in the region.

The water accounting project has provided the Upper Hunter Mining Dialogue members with objective information about mining’s interaction with water resources in the region, allowing for a more informed discussion. The industry will collect and report data on an annual basis.

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