13 September, 2016

Court decision proves laws too weak to protect Sydney's drinking water from mine pollution

A court has today found an underground coal mine near Lithgow can pump millions of litres of polluted water into Warragamba Dam each day and place the future of Sydney’s drinking water at risk.

In a ruling handed down today, the Land and Environment Court dismissed a case brought by 4nature against the Springvale underground coal mine north of Lithgow. The Court ruled in favour of the Springvale underground coal mine, allowing it to continue polluting the Coxs River and Sydney drinking water catchment.

The court ruled that the NSW Planning and Assessment Commission correctly applied the test that determined that the Springvale coal mine had a ‘neutral or beneficial’ impact on water quality.

4nature President Andrew Cox said: “We are shocked at this failure of NSW’s planning laws to protect our precious drinking water against pollution from the mining industry.

“This ruling is the first time these catchment laws have been tested in the courts -- the determination today shows they have comprehensively failed.

“If a coal mine can pump each day 19 million litres of salty, nutrient and metal laden water into the Coxs River that flows into Warragamba Dam then the law is failing to safeguard the basic right of our community to clean drinking water.

“We call on Planning Minister Rob Stokes to immediately end this special treatment for the mining industry and ensure their activities do not threaten or degrade our drinking water, underground water resources, rivers and streams. It’s time for stronger catchment laws that keep water and communities safe.

“The Minister also has the power to intervene in the current proposal to expand the Springvale coal mine and require polluted water from the mine be treated and cleaned before entering the Coxs River.

Blue Mountains Conservation Society spokesperson Madi Maclean said: “How can we protect the quality of Sydney’s water supply if coal mines are allowed to pump polluted water into its water supply catchments?

“The Springvale underground coal mine is the major single contributor to the saltiness of the Coxs River."

Nature Conservation Council CEO Kate Smolski said: “Today’s ruling shows that existing environmental protections for clean drinking water in Sydney’s catchment are ineffective.

“Time and again, Premier Baird has sided with big business against the interests of local communities, the environment and our critical drinking-water supplies.

“It is appalling community groups like 4nature have been forced to take legal action to protect a vital community resource.

“The government must now act quickly to strengthen these ineffective laws to ensure they provide the protection for our water supplies that the community expects.”

Mr Cox said: “4nature will closely review the judgment before deciding if it will lodge an appeal.”



  • EDO Summary - http://www.edonsw.org.au/springvale_mine_extension
  • The case was supported by Blue Mountains Conservation Society, Nature Conservation Council of NSW, Colong Foundation for Wilderness, Lithgow Environment Group, National Parks Association of NSW and the Australian Conservation Foundation.
  • 4nature is a volunteer-based conservation group established in 2010 seeking to protect the natural environment in Australia and the South Pacific.




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