The Bradshaws have been farming at Maules Creek for over 100 years but they’ve never seen a bore run dry before, even in the worst drought of ‘65.
“Something’s happening, but I don’t know what.” says Steve Bradshaw who has seen seven operating bores reduced to four – and one of those is dodgy. He had to cart water for three months to one of the houses on Glenelg – a first. Because of the drought and lack of water he has just seven cows left on his 40 hectare property and survives by off-farm income.
“We always had water though the property, we have three creeks including Maules Creek and that water runs down from Mt Kaputar. We only had floods two years ago. But now several bores and the creeks have run dry and I don’t believe it’s just because of the drought.”
Lock the Gate spokesman Phil Laird says that local farmers have needed to drill, deepen or clean out 29 bores or wells in the last 6 months, far more than during any preceding drought.
Mr Laird in a briefing note says: “The Maules Creek groundwater source is a permanent source of water; the Maules Creek alluvial aquifer has dropped significantly over a short period of time starting in October, 2017.
“Whitehaven’s Maules Creek coal mine is de-watering coal seams with large pumps. Anecdotal evidence from mine workers is that the company was pumping large amounts of water starting in November. We are concerned that the alluvial aquifer drawdown is due to connectivity between the coal seams and the alluvial aquifer.”
But Whitehaven says the Lock the Gate claims are entirely spurious with no data to back it up, although it sympathises with farmers’ plight over water in the drought.
A Department of Planning investigation has already found the drawdown was because of the drought.
Whitehaven says bores haven’t recharged simply because of the drought. It says it uses less than 1 per cent of water licensed in the Upper Namoi, and that its operation are at least two kilometres from the allegedly affected aquifer. The company says every amount of water it uses is done under licence and entirely metered and analysed by the government.
It said the NSW Land and Water Commissioner showed the close correlation between rainfall and seasonal bore drawdown effects related to irrigation activities.
“The correlation is apparent since the commencement of large scale irrigation in the area (note that Maules Creek Mine did not exist until 2014).
“This data is publicly available. Records indicate since mid-2016 there hasn’t been enough rainfall to generate recharge of the alluvial aquifers.”
Mr Laird later disputed this saying that he had an email trail that showed that he tried 4 times to get groundwater pumping data from the Land and Water Commissioner.
“In the end he gave up saying that if I wanted more data there was active investigations by Natural Resource Access Regulator and the Dept of Planning and Environment.
“This is hardly an endorsement by the Land and Water Commissioner of Whitehaven's "drought" argument.
“We have asked the Dept of Planning for the pumping data and they have not provided it. So in the end the burden of proof for establishing harm lies on the landholder but the coal mine won't supply the data. The whole mess is a test case for Santos Narrabri Gas Project (NGP) and the chickens could come home to roost as the Land and Water Commissioner is the Chairperson of the NGP Community consultative committee.”