A new report claims that coal mining in central Queensland could have a devastating impact on the region’s groundwater supplies.
The report by Tom Crothers, a former senior water expert with the Queensland government, claims a swath of proposed coal mining projects in the centre of the state will severely deplete groundwater levels in the area. It says this could have a major adverse impact on graziers and farmers as well as rural residents.
The report assesses the impact on groundwater of the mining proposals made by several companies, who plan to establish over 34 open cut and 11 underground coal mines along a 270-kilometre tract of land in the state's pastoral heartland.
The Crothers report estimates that the mines will use a total of 1,354 billion litres of water over project lives, which could vary between 30 and 90 years, equivalent to two and half times all the water contained by Sydney Harbour.
According to Crothers, both federal and state level governments have neglected to provide a proper assessment of the cumulative impact of the proposed coal mining projects on groundwater in the region, which serves as the lifeblood of the local pastoral and farming industries.
"Groundwater drawdown will significantly reduce the ability for surrounding graziers and towns to supply their water needs," says the report.
Towns in the region which would be affected by the depletion of groundwater include Jericho and Alpha, situated to the west of Emerald in the Shire of Jericho.
The report further suggests that the use of groundwater by coal mining projects could even impact the Great Artesian Basin, the only reliable source of fresh water for much of inland Australia.
Ellie Smith, a spokesperson for Lock the Gate Alliance, the anti-mining group responsible for commissioning the report, says that the government should refrain from issuing any mining approvals in the region until it fully assesses their impact on groundwater.
"Our communities depend on groundwater - it's our lifeblood," Smith said.
Smith said both miners and the government had completely overlook the interests of local communities in their haste to develop the region's coal deposits.
"The coal companies and our governments are treating us with contempt by rushing ahead to develop these damaging mines without even quantifying the true risk to the regions' water resources," he noted.