World leading experts in mining and water will be part of a new Independent Expert Panel on Mining in Sydney’s Drinking Water Catchment to advise on future longwall mining applications in the Sydney drinking water catchment’s sensitive Special Areas.

Deputy Secretary of Planning Services at the Department of Planning and Environment, Marcus Ray, said that protecting water resources is always a top priority for the NSW Government.

“The independent panel will provide advice to the NSW Government on mining operations in the ‘Special Areas’ of the catchment, which refers to the protected areas around Sydney’s major water storages such as the Avon, Cordeaux, Cataract and Woronora dams,” Mr Ray said.

“While coal mining has occurred in the catchment for over 160 years without any major impacts on water supply, the expert panel will look closely at any risks to the catchment’s water resources.

“To ensure best practice mining, the NSW Government is establishing the panel to advise on ways to best respond to recommendations made in recent studies.

“All mines in the catchment are currently required to limit water losses and follow strict water monitoring conditions.

“The expert panel will review water modelling and monitoring activities of approved mines in the Special Areas, to ensure they are as accurate as possible.

“A highly regarded mining study from 2008, known as the Southern Coalfield Inquiry, will also be updated by the expert panelists, who will apply the latest scientific knowledge to mining operations in the catchment.”

The new NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer will chair the independent panel when appointed, in the interim Emeritus Professor Jim Galvin will act as the Chair.

Mr Ray said that five other carefully selected eminent experts will make up the panel and provide the best scientific advice available in Australia.

“Emeritus Professor Jim Galvin and Professor Bruce Hebblewhite have internationally renowned expertise on underground mining and subsidence,” Mr Ray said.

“Professor Neil McIntyre is known for his world-leading hydrology experience with land use and mining impacts.

“Dr Ann Young is the foremost expert in swamps in this particular region and has published several academic books on environmental science.

“Michael Williams is the former Principal Hydrogeologist for the NSW Office of Water and brings 40 years’ experience serving the public sector in water management.”

WaterNSW strongly supports the NSW Government’s decision to establish the independent expert panel.

The announcement of the expert panel is in response to the findings and recommendations of the NSW Department of Planning and Environment’s Height of Cracking Study at the Dendrobium Mine and the recent independent audit of the Sydney drinking water catchment.

According to WaterNSW it has long-advocated for an independent expert panel to review the benchmarks government uses to assess mining proposals and align those standards with the most contemporary information available.

“WaterNSW looks forward to working with the independent expert panel to protect the quantity and quality of water in the Special Areas and to maintain the ecological integrity of lands around the storage areas,” a spokesperson for WaterNSW said.

“The potential for irreversible impacts of mining on the quality or quantity of water in sensitive areas of the Sydney drinking water catchment is a major concern for WaterNSW as catchment protectors.

“Key priority areas for WaterNSW include preventing unacceptable water losses from mining, ensuring mining has a neutral or beneficial impact on water quality, and ensuring the health of watercourses and swamps is maintained.

“WaterNSW has a legislative obligation to protect water in Sydney’s drinking water catchment and actively advises planning authorities and mining companies on impact risks and remedial issues associated with mining in the Special Areas.

“Establishing an independent panel is consistent with WaterNSW’s view that the highest level of caution is required when considering applications for further longwall mining in the Special Areas. In doing so the government has appointed pre-eminent experts to recommend measures to improve water modelling, monitoring and impact assessment and to advise it on new mining applications in the Special Areas.

Mines located in the catchment are substantial contributors to the Illawarra region and employ 700 people.

They supply coal to the nearby BlueScope Steelworks in Wollongong, which employs another 3,000 people.

There are three underground coal mines in the Special Areas of Sydney’s water catchment including the Dendrobium, Metropolitan and Wongawilli mines.

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