Miner’s aquifer bid still on hold

Claire TyrrellCountryman

Opposition to Karara Mining’s application to draw water from Mingenew’s Parmelia aquifer is set to delay a decision on the licence for at least two months.

Early June was the initial deadline for the Department of Water (DoW) to hand down a decision on Karara’s application to draw five gigalitres a year from the aquifer.

But the matter was recently deferred to the appeals convener after complaints were made over the Environmental Protection Authority’s (EPA) handling of the issue.

At least two appeals were lodged, criticising the EPA’s decision not to conduct an independent assessment of the aquifer.

Acting appeals convenor Jean-Pierre Clement said the appeals should be processed by August.

A final decision will then be in the hands of WA Environment Minister Bill Marmion.

The EPA decided not to independently assess Karara’s application on the grounds that DoW “can manage potential impacts through its approval processes, in consultation with Department of Environment and Conservation”.

WA Greens MLC Alison Xamon was among the appellants against Karara’s water licence application.

“The CSIRO has indicated there is very little knowledge of the groundwater system (around Mingenew), so we think it would be unwise to grant a licence without much study of the impact, ” she said.

Ms Xamon highlighted two concerns with Karara’s licence application in a series of appeals to the DoW and the appeals convenor.

She called for more information about the area’s hydrology, available groundwater resources and drawdown impacts.

Ms Xamon also voiced concerns about the likely impacts of taking water away from the area.

“If we were going extract that same level of water and applying it to crops some of it would go back into the aquifer, but instead we are taking it entirely away from the area, ” she said.

DoW said it had sufficient knowledge of the Parmelia aquifer, which it would base its decision on.

If Karara’s application is successful, the miner would draw about 80 per cent of the rights to the aquifer and close to all of the remaining water allocations.

Karara Mining joint venture partner Gindalbie commissioned independent tests of the aquifer, at a cost of about $3 million. The miner started building a water pipeline from its iron ore project through Mingenew earlier this year, in anticipation of receiving the licence.

Gindalbie investor relations and corporate affair manager Michael Weir said the water licence was not considered a “critical path item” at this stage.

The miner expects to ship its first load of magnetite through Geraldton in June 2012, when access to water will be crucial.

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