Water the new battleground in the bush

HOGSBACK reckons farmers do not have an automatic right to get first dibs on water in the bush – drought or no drought.
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We all know farmers are doing it tough these days, especially in New South Wales and Queensland, because of the drought.

However, we've heard this same story before in the previous drought, and the drought before that.  

It seems farmers keep farming in marginal land and keep waiting on governments to bail them out every time.

Maybe that water is better deployed in an activity with a better economic return? 

They also think they should have the little water that is left at the expense of competing mining operations.

Bylong farmer Phil Kennedy said the NSW Minerals Council had been attacking farmers' livelihoods with its campaign pushing to have the Bylong decision overturned and the planning commission nobbled.

"It's insulting that even in this time of severe drought, the mining industry is spending vast sums of money trying to promote mining here at the expense of the water we all need to survive," he said.

Over in Queensland, an independent scientific review has found major failings with a Queensland government investigation into the loss of water in farming bores near New Hope Corporation's New Acland coal mine.

Local farmers are using every scrap of data they can and are pointing the finger at the mine for causing the drainage.

The report, by RMIT's Dr Matthew Currell, throws doubt over previous analysis by the Department of Natural Resources and Mines and identifies gaps and weaknesses that suggest mining impacts are not properly understood.

Currell's review identified major weaknesses in the DNRM analysis and concluded: "The absence of such data and analysis contributes to ongoing uncertainty regarding the findings of the report".

Oakey Coal Action Alliance secretary Paul King said: "Professor Currell's findings are worrying.

"Landholders in the Kulpi region have long suspected there is a direct correlation between mining activities at New Acland and drainage of their water bores."

The Greens have heard the anti-mining water rhetoric and identified it as a convenient tool to use to raise unfounded fears on the quality of drinking water in the Central Coast and Sydney.

NSW upper house Greens MP Abigail Boyd has taken aim at the recently approved Wallarah 2 underground coal mine by introducing a bill to protect nearby catchment areas.

Boyd said she introduced the Central Coast Drinking Water Catchments Protection Bill 2019 to protect the local drinking water by imposing a moratorium on coal mining in the area's water catchment areas.

The Greens bill would protect drinking water on the Central Coast and place a moratorium on coal mining and CSG, preventing the Wallarah 2 coal mine from proceeding.

"The Wallarah 2 coal mine will consume gigalitres of our drinking water supply and threaten its contamination, with clean-up possibly taking up to 30 years," she said.

"It poses significant threats to the waterways that form the Central Coast water supply system at a time when our water reserves are already being depleted at an alarming rate across the state."

Wallarah 2 owner the Wyong Areas Coal Joint Venture has warned that enacting the bill could trigger a legitimate case for damages under sovereign risk.

A spokesman said the company had the required development approvals and mining leases for the Wallarah 2 coal project.

He said the water issues had been rigorously assessed and determined via independent assessment by the former NSW Planning Assessment Commission.

Hogsback reckons the war over water has just begun with no signs of rain on the horizon.

The mining industry had better be ready for a fight if it doesn't want to be trampled by angry farmers and Greens.