Qld water release program to extend beyond BMA mines

THE Queensland government will extend the legacy mine water program beyond four BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance coal mines in the Fitzroy River Basin next wet season.
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"At the carwash", Peak Downs Mine, Australia. Photograph by Ben Dolphin.

Lou Caruana

In November last year, the government announced the pilot mine water release program for Goonyella Riverside, Peak Downs, Norwich Park and Saraji.

Central Queensland coal mines still have an estimated 250 gigalitres of excess water as a result of the recent wet seasons.

Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney said the long-term solutions to support economic development and protect catchment water quality would be put in place by the 2013-14 wet season, subject to sufficient water flows.

“The legacy mine water issue is real and it has cost Queensland jobs and an estimated $750 million in lost royalties,” Seeney said.

“The pilot program carried out over the last wet season shows that this legacy mine water can be released when there are sufficient river flows, while maintaining water quality.

“Expert hydrologists from Gilbert and Sutherland made the findings after a comprehensive evaluation of the pilot mine water volumes and mine release capacities.”

Seeney said two of the pilot mines were the only coal mines to report a significant reduction in legacy water volume over the 2012-13 wet season.

Detailed water-quality sampling had been conducted regularly throughout the pilot and these would continue, with the results publicly available through the Fitzroy River website, he added.

He said the expanded pilot would compromise on a range of common sense changes to the coal mine environmental authorities.

“It may be that in some sub-catchments a coordinated strategy with localised trigger values will maximise release opportunities while minimising impacts on water quality,” he said.

“The government will undertake detailed discussions with coal mine operators in coming months to identify the optimal solutions that may be available for each mine.

“Any amendments will need to be finalised well before the next wet season to allow coal mines to be well prepared and for the supporting monitoring programs to be up and running.

“We have committed to work with industry to address the legacy mine water issue as an important step to delivering a long-term improvement in Fitzroy Basin water quality.”

There were four flow events starting on the Australia Day long weekend, with the release of about 10GL of water from the pilot mines.

In total, the 36 operational coal mines in the Fitzroy Basin released about 26GL.

Seeney said total flow past The Gap gauging station at Rockhampton exceeded 8200GL so the coal mine water releases represented only 0.3% of the volume.

Environment Minister Andrew Powell said an independent assessment of the pilot had proved the measures put in place ensured water quality for drinking and agriculture while the environment was protected.

“The data shows that adequate measures are in place to ensure water quality standards have been met and I am confident that we will continue to see that in the future,” Powell said.

“The government will be working with the coal mines on a case by case basis, taking into account the land uses immediately downstream of the mines.

“A subscription system will ensure downstream users and local councils receive email notifications when mines are releasing water and all information will be available online.

“We will also work to streamline any approvals required for coal mines that will deliver improvements in mine water management.”

Powell said coal mines needed to be able to collect sufficient water for their operations, efficiently divert excess water offsite and remove salt that accumulated in mine-affected water in the most sustainable way.

“Recent wet seasons highlight the changed … rainfall patterns and we will work [with] the mines to adapt their management strategies to improve long-term water management,” he said.