By Tracy Sorensen
You might remember the spirited public campaign against the proposal to siphon water from the Macquarie Wambool River to a gold mine at Kings Plains near Blayney. In early 2016, fishers, farmers, Wiradyuri Elders, local nuns and environmentalists – and many other concerned citizens – joined forces to reject the idea.
In that proposal, water was to be piped from the water treatment centre on the river here in Bathurst over to the proposed McPhillamy gold mine, owned by the WA company Regis Resources. We were told it was only waste water that had already been used for the town’s needs, so it wouldn’t make much difference to sell it to the mine. But this water, once treated, has always gone back into the river. From the point of view of fish, aquatic plants and farmers downstream, the fact that it has passed through a few kidneys and washing machines isn’t really here or there. It’s still water.
The attitude of the protesters was summed up by the slogan: Water – More Precious Than Gold.
The response to Regis’ proposal was so fierce that they backed off. But will this project continue to haunt us?
Regis is determined to make good on its licence to dig for gold. Its new strategy to get a consistent supply of water for its proposed open-cut mine is to pipe water all the way from coal operations (mining and burning) near Lithgow to Kings Plains. That’s a distance of nearly 90 kilometres. It will cross the Macquarie-Wambool near Montavella Road.
There are two problems with this idea (among many others). One is the possibility of a burst pipeline and the discharge of toxic, untreated, water into our district. The pipe’s proposed river crossing is not that far from where the gas line recently burst, so this is not a far-fetched concern.
Secondly, we are nearing the point of a rapid phase-out of coal. The Lithgow community is well across this, with Lithgow Council preparing for the transition. It’s possible that waste water from Lithgow will peter out before the end of the life of the McPhillamy mine. If that is the case, will Regis once again start eyeing off Bathurst’s water? It’s worth remembering that similar mines (Cadia, for example) have a habit of seeking approvals for future expansion once they are up and running under the scope of their initial DA.
The public has until February 15 to comment on this proposal via the state government’s online Major Projects planning portal (link below).
The state government’s Major Projects portal – click on the HAVE YOUR SAY link in box, top right.
The Environmental Defender’s Office fund-raising page – money needed for expert witnesses.
The Belubula Headwaters Protection Group’s Facebook page
Pic: Flashback to early 2016: protesting against proposal to pipe water from Bathurst to Kings Plains for Regis’s McPhillamy open-cut gold mine. We sent them packing, but the project continues to haunt the region’s water resources.