Bringing mining into the water reform fold
The National Water Commission has called for mining activities to be incorporated into water access and planning frameworks that are compliant with the National Water Initiative.
Releasing a major report and position statement on mining and water issues, Commission CEO Ken Matthews said, "The National Water Commission takes the view that mining activities should operate under the same rules as other water users.
"Including mining and related industries in water access and planning regimes will help governments, mining companies and other water users to better understand and manage the local and cumulative effects of mining activities on our precious water resources.
"It will also provide the mining industry with more secure access to water, open up the ability to trade water with other users, and help manage the cumulative effects of mining activities on water resources."
When the National Water Initiative was signed in 2004, it was agreed that there may be special circumstances facing the mineral and petroleum sectors that require specific management arrangements outside its scope.
"However," said Matthews, "little progress has been made since to spell out those special circumstances. This has meant that the minerals, petroleum, coal seam gas and related industries have almost by default been left out of broader water markets and water planning processes - despite the potential benefits that would flow to all water users, and in particular the resources sector itself."
Recognising that the interception of water by mining activities has become an increasingly important issue for industry, governments, communities and other water users, the commission has been undertaking a $1.8 million project, Cumulative Effects of Mining on Groundwater Resources, to investigate current practices across Australia.
The project’s first report - Water issues in jurisdictional planning for mining - assesses the extent to which state and territory mining and environmental assessment processes are consistent with National Water Initiative (NWI) objectives and consider the cumulative effects of mining on groundwater.
According to Matthews, "This report finds that although all states and territories have to some degree considered NWI objectives when assessing the cumulative effects of mining on groundwater, there are significant opportunities for improvement. These include moving to a nationally consistent risk-based approach for considering local and cumulative effects of mining on groundwater, improving communication and coordination between agencies involved in planning and approvals, and developing nationally consistent water accounting, data collection, storage and sharing protocols."
The next phase of the Cumulative Effects of Mining on Groundwater Resources project is developing a national framework of standardised tools and methodologies to assist the mining sector and regulators to better understand and manage local and cumulative effects of multiple mining activities on groundwater resources. Four case study regions have been selected to test and refine the framework, with a public release planned for late 2010.
Copies of both the Waterlines report and the position statement are available at www.nwc.gov.au.
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