Last week, the Federal Government’s National Water Commission (NWC) delivered its third biannual assessment of the national water initiative (NWI). And for the first time, the NWC is looking seriously at water use in coal seam gas (CSG) mining.
The NWI is the Commonwealth Government’s blueprint for water reform in Australia. It brings together state and Commonwealth governments to coordinate policies and actions affecting water use in this country.
The aim is a more cohesive national approach to the way Australia manages, measures, plans for, prices and trades water.
The assessment looks at whether the NWI has improved the management of Australia’s water.
It sounds fairly boring and rather irrelevant if you are not a farmer or living on the Murray-Darling River. But it isn’t.
This is an important assessment of a crucial and highly emotive issue that is currently debated in schools, businesses, government and farmhouses: CSG extraction and its effect on water resources in Australia.
Taking a closer look at mining and water
The NWI has long recognised that the mining and petroleum sector has special water requirements. In fact, Clause 34 of the NWI notes that specific mining and petroleum proposals need to be assessed according to environmental, social and economic considerations. But further management arrangements for water use in these sectors fall outside this agreement.
Mining definitely has special water requirements. The giant Olympic Dam uranium mine in South Australia uses 12,000 megalitres of water per year (one megalitre is equal to 1 million litres). This one mine operator takes 12 billion litres of water from the Great Artesian Basin every year.
In the past few years, there have been many other mining and petroleum activities that have similarly competed for the use of water resources. The most thirsty of all is the extraction of CSG.