A review into groundwater allocations by the Western Australian Government has highlighted concerns over its ‘first-in, first-served’ approach. Conservationists argue big mining companies are taking too much and that to be more environmentally friendly, liquid groundwater should be reserved for food production and ecosystems.
Groundwater resources are being drained by mining projects at the expense of farming, according to conservationists.
The Conservation Council of WA has launched a campaign to protect groundwater as part of a State Government review into the system.
Concerns over the scarcity of water resources and poor quality – due to contamination from non-environmental cleaning products and other pollutants – continue to dominate water policy debate.
“Without groundwater in Western Australia we cannot produce food, and our ecosystems cannot survive,” according to the CCWA.
“Yet the State Government is giving away billions of litres of our precious groundwater for free to the mining industry under a water allocation policy that prioritises mining over the environment and food production.”
Water requirements are high at remote mining sites and contribute to the sector’s non-eco-friendly image. Industrial liquid waste and the vast amounts of water required for washing iron ore are among the issues facing mining.
The CCWA said that mining activities placed a significant drain on groundwater resources and that:
- A single mine was allocated nearly 90 per cent of an entire Mid-West Aquifer (five billion litres of water per year) to wash iron ore at the expense of farmers in the region;
- The collie coal industry used nearly 50 billion litres of groundwater each year, which was not eco-friendly.
Liquid products used by the sector also contributed to soil and water pollution (although environmental cleaning products such as solvent-free degreasers were helping to address this).
WA Water Minister Bill Marmion said that under the current groundwater allocation system, access to groundwater was granted on a ‘first-in, first-served’ policy.
“As more of our groundwater and surface water areas come closer to full allocation, and as competition for water increases, this policy is becoming less effective for making sure we get the best value from our water resources,” he said.
A discussion paper into groundwater allocations has proposed using market mechanisms such as an auction once resources reached 70 per cent of their capacity.
Opposition to current allocation policy has been extreme. Greens MLC Alison Xamon said the decision to grant Mid West miner Gindalbie Metals access to more than 80 per cent of water allocation rights to a local aquifer highlighted the problems.
“There doesn’t seem to have been any consideration of the future of the community who live above the aquifer,” Ms Xamon said. “As a result of this decision, the future expansion of agriculture in the region has been hamstrung.”
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