The draft Water Sharing Plan for the North Coast Fractured and
Porous Rock Groundwater Sources will be on public exhibition until
Sunday 20 March 2016. The Plan affects the mining industry in the
Hunter and Central Coast areas as it covers the hard rock aquifers
of the Sydney Basin – North Coast Groundwater Source (the
It has been under development for several years and, subject to
the public exhibition process, is scheduled to begin by 1 July
2016. It contains several provisions that are important to the
extraction of groundwater by mining operations and should be
Until now, extraction of groundwater from the Water Source,
including through the dewatering of mining pits, has been regulated
under the Water Act 1912 (NSW) (Water Act). Once the Plan
commences, the Water Source will be subject to the licensing and
approval provisions of the Water Management Act 2000 (NSW)
(WM Act). Existing licences under Part 5 of the Water Act will be
converted to water access licences and water supply works and use
approvals under the WM Act.
The Plan includes proposed rules for water extraction, the
protection of the environment, management of water licensing
accounts and water trading in the Plan area. It also prescribes
factors relevant to the determination of applications for water
supply work approvals and mandatory conditions of water access
licences and water supply work approvals.
Importantly, the Plan proposes an extraction limit, which is the
maximum volume of water permitted to be extracted annually on
average from the Water Source by licensed users and under basic
landholder rights. Under the Plan the Water Source extraction limit
has already been exceeded, which means that there is no
unassigned water available to be allocated. This means new
water entitlements will not be granted and must be instead secured
by trading within the Water Source. Access to a small percentage of
groundwater storage to account for take of water will be available
in limited circumstances. This availability will be via a process
that has not yet been used and applying principles that are yet to
be fleshed out.
This is also reflected in the Hunter Water Shortage Zone Embargo
Order that commenced on 5 February 2016. The Embargo Order prevents
any further applications from being made for groundwater licences
in the Hunter under Part 5 of the Water Act unless an exemption is
available, with the effect that it will not be possible to apply
for a new groundwater licence between now and the commencement of
A policy has been published on securing the necessary water
entitlements to extract hard rock/coal seam water mine inflows from
the market or from the buried groundwater sources that underlie the
Permian water sources. The practical application of this policy to
the water extraction process is yet to be seen, however, may form a
critical element of an approval platform for a new or expanded or
New South Wales is not the only State grappling with the
interrelationship of water rights and mining. There is a
Queensland Act, due to commence on 6 December 2016 if not
proclaimed earlier, that proposes to give miners certain statutory
rights to take water where it is incidentally taken during the
extraction of the resource (for example, during mine dewatering)
and without the need for a separate water licence under the
Water Act 2000 (Qld). Miners may still need to obtain
water licences or permits in other circumstances, such as for dust
suppression in areas where groundwater is regulated. While the
impacts of the taking of water will be assessed as part of the
mining lease and environmental authority application process, there
has been vocal concern about the impacts of these water rights on
agricultural water users and the environment, especially as the
amended legislation would mean that there is no single system that
regulates the taking of water.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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It is a common misconception that the grant of mining tenure, whether it be an Exploration Permit, Mineral Development Licence or Mining Lease, will entitle the holder to access all land within it in order to explore or mine.
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