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water development--SA style « Previous | |Next »
February 02, 2007

It's amazing the way water politics has worked, isn't it. BHP Billiton uses millions of litres of water a day from the Great Artesian Basin without paying for it. It is effectively mining water. Other users of the aquifer, which runs beneath NSW, Queensland, the Northern Territory and South Australia, are subject to a management plan for the basin, but BHP is exempt. Water is a resource to build company profits and drive the economy.


And BHP wants to extract more water---an additional 120 million litres per day---as part of BHP Billion's proposed expansion of the Olympic Dam mine. How about that?

Who is responsible for this unsustainable use of water; for a form of economic development that has a history of no consideration for the environment. The SA Government is responsible for this destruction of the commons by the mining companies. Under a 1982 agreement with the South Australian Government, BHP's Olympic Dam uranium, gold and copper mine and the neighbouring town of Roxby Downs draws 33 million litres of water a day from the basin free of charge.

John Quiggin has argued that the doesn't see the need for a Commonwealth takeover of the water sector:

I don’t see the need for this. There are plenty of problems in water policy, and plenty of mistakes have been made, but there’s plenty of blame to go around. There’s no evidence that the Commonwealth would do a better job on the Murray-Darling by itself than through the long-standing co-operative arrangements, let alone, as Hal Colebatch points out (in a piece for which the link I had is broken), that it has any business running the water sector in states like WA and Tasmania.

The SA government has done little about BHP mining water for free, despite all its rhetoric about the unsustainable use of water in the Murray-Darling Basin in the last decade. So you can see why the states have such little credibility on the governance of water issues. You can also see why it is necessary for the Commonwealth to take over the governance of water. The Rann Government in SA is far too weak, and lacks the political courage, to take on BHP over its use of water.

Something needs to be done since the Great Artesian Basin supports many mound springs within an arid region. The mound springs are natural up-wellings of water which, over millennia, deposit water-borne minerals that form into mounds. The springs are unique arid land habitats and have world class natural and cultural significance. They support rare and delicate micro flora and fauna, many species of which are endemic to a particular mound spring. Since water extraction for the mine began in a region now known as Borefield A, many of the surrounding mound spring complexes have experienced reduced flows, or have ceased flowing altogether.

A far better option is for BHPB to building a desalination plant to supply the mine’s additional water requirements.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 06:34 AM | | Comments (2)


I recall BHP at Port Kembla in the 90s looking at using sewerage for cooling as their water bill was high.

there is very little emphasis on greening production in the current urban water debate. It's all about restrictions on households in cities.

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