Illawarra environmentalists have backed a call from the state’s chief scientist for better monitoring of the impacts from coalmining and coal seam gas operations on the water supply, saying it supports community concerns about the resources industry monitoring and reporting on itself.
Professor Mary O’Kane’s report, released on Wednesday, called for a comprehensive system of water monitoring devices to keep track of the actual impact of extraction on creeks and groundwater.
It also called for an independent statutory body, possibly called the NSW Water Resources Impacts Commission, to oversee the process.
Stop CSG Illawarra spokeswoman Jess Moore said this showed there was not enough information on how water supplied were affected, yet resource industries were allowed to continue in sensitive areas.
‘‘It recognises the lack of baseline data that makes efforts to link mining to impacts difficult,’’ she said.
Ms Moore said coal and gas operations in the water catchment should be halted while there was uncertainty.
‘‘We support the call for an independent statutory authority, but it must be backed by a ban on CSG in the catchment and a freeze on the industry elsewhere to research if, and under what conditions, it’s safe.
But the Nature Conservation Council said Prof O’Kane’s recommendations did not go far enough, as damage could be done to drinking water catchments before the monitoring picked it up.
‘‘Professor O’Kane’s report acknowledges coalmining is having negative long-term impacts on Sydney’s drinking water, yet her main recommendation in response to this threat is simply to improve data collection,’’ NCC CEO Kate Smolski said.
‘‘By the time significant water loss or contamination has been detected it may be too late to do anything about it. The government must protect this vital resource by banning coal and gas developments in the catchment once and for all.’’
Illawarra Coal, which operates longwall mines in catchment areas, including the Dendrobium mine west of Wollongong, said only that the chief scientist ‘‘supported’’ longwall mining in the catchment.
‘‘Illawarra Coal is examining the details of the NSW chief scientist’s most recent report on the placement of monitoring equipment for water resources in NSW,’’ a spokeswoman said.
‘‘The company acknowledges the NSW chief scientist’s initial report from May 2014, which supports the continuation of longwall mining in the Sydney water catchment.’’
More specific questions on whether the new arrangements would be viable were not answered.
Illawarra Coal and its consultants have been monitoring creeks and streams in different areas above the escarpment for more than a decade, as part of its environmental assessment for operating mines.