Water Stewardship

Australia’s minerals industry is committed to the stewardship of Australia’s water resource in line with the high environmental, social, cultural and economic value of water to all Australians.

Water availability and security of supply is a critical issue for the minerals industry as an essential input to mining and minerals processing and maintaining safety.

Water use by Australia’s minerals industry is comprehensively regulated, represents a comparatively small share of national water consumption and generates high economic value. Gross value-add per gigalitre of water used in 2016-17 was $272 million for coal mining, $141 million for metal ore mining and $64 million for non-metallic mineral mining and quarrying.

No other industry’s water use is more heavily assessed and regulated. The industry acquires water through water resources planning and entitlement regimes, state government environmental and planning approvals, Independent Expert Scientific Committee review and specific approval under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Mining’s water use as a share of national consumption also fell from 3.9 per cent to 3.7 per cent between 2014-15 and 2016-17.

Although the minerals industry is a comparatively small user of water nationally, the industry can be a significant water user at a local or regional level. The minerals industry continues to work to further reduce its water use in line with a long-standing commitment to responsible water management, which includes:

  • investing significantly in water infrastructure to support sustainable water use
  • identifying opportunities for beneficial water use by third parties, including for agricultural production and town water supply
  • supporting and investing in research and development to improve scientific knowledge of local water system and catchment health
  • The mining industry is committed to active and open engagement with stakeholders including other water users within regions to support regional economic development and diversity and to maximise beneficial re-use of recycled water.

Industry investment in water often benefits communities, neighbours and others. For example:

  • In the Bowen Basin the coal industry is acknowledged as paying more than its share to pay for the water infrastructure and then paying again for high security water allocations which allow urban and agricultural water users to access water at lower-priced allocations based on lower security
  • The construction of Fairburn Dam near Emerald to service the coal mining industry has enable a higher value irrigated agricultural industry to flourish – producing cotton, citrus and a range of other produce.

The National Water Initiative – the Australian blueprint for water reform – is designed to enable the most efficient use of water. Water markets in Australia have been established to provide an incentive for water to flow to its highest value use, generating maximum benefit back to the community.

The minerals industry is at the forefront of consistent water accounting and reporting, developing a sector-leading water accounting framework in 2011. The framework has been adopted by MCA members and industry globally, and its metrics are used in company reports or on a regional basis.

The industry has also invested significantly over many years in research to enhance its water management, which has had flow on benefits to other water managers.