Environment and Sustainability, Freight Rail

Water authority questions Southern Highlands mine, rail project

New South Wales’ water authority has raised major concerns over POSCO’s water modelling for its proposed Hume Coal project in the Southern Highlands.

The South Korean steel giant wants to extract 39 million tonnes of coal over 23 years from the a site near Berrima. The coal would be exported at Port Kembla, via the Berrima Rail Project, a separate development proposal.

But POSCO has faced significant opposition from local farming groups who are concerned the mine would destroy a “world-class” aquifer.

And now the miner’s water modelling in its Environmental Impact Statement has been labelled “optimistic” by the state’s water authority, WaterNSW.

WaterNSW raised severe concerns in a submission published recently by Planning NSW.

“The use of average rainfall input, rather than probabilistic or worst case scenario ranges, makes derived groundwater impact predictions non-conservative/optimistic for dry periods,” the authority said in its submission, dated June 30.

“This lack of conservatism is a significant concern to WaterNSW and should be addressed, e.g. through additional worst-case sensitivity testing of baseflow and groundwater level reductions on neighboring bores, prior to the Department’s assessment of the project.”

The project, known as Hume Coal, would extract roughly 55% coking coal and 45% thermal coal, at a rate of 3 million tonnes per annum at peak.

POSCO’s EIS, released in March, estimated it would consume as much as 2.3 billion litres of water a year, resulting in drawdowns of two or more metres for 93 private bores on 71 properties, impacting each bore for an average of 36 years, and as much as 65 years in some places.

The miner has said it will compensate landowners, but community group Battle for Berrima rejected the premise that such a significant impact to groundwater could be justified through compensation.

“The simple fact is that farmers, landowners and residents will be directly affected by Hume Coal’s proposal for up to seven decades if it is approved by the Berejiklian Government,” Battle for Berrima president Ken Wilson said in April.