Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

Olympic Dam uranium mine’s unlimited water access is killing the Arabana people’s mound springs

South Australia’s disappearing springs raise questions for miner BHP–  https://www.smh.com.au/environment/sustainability/south-australia-s-disappearing-springs-raise-questions-for-miner-bhp-20201117-p56f6m.html

Few in big cities know about the ‘mound springs’, but they are of deep cultural significance for the Arabana people who hold native title over Lake Eyre and its surrounds.By Richard Baker November 23, 2020

Dotted around the vast arid harshness of outback South Australia are thousands of small springs fed by ancient waters from the Great Artesian Basin.

Few in big cities know about the “mound springs”, but they are of deep cultural significance for the Arabana people who hold native title over Lake Eyre and its surrounds. They are also a precious source of life for humans, animals and plants in a hostile environment.

A mound spring near the shore of Lake Eyre in South Australia.

But the Arabana people fear the extraction of tens of millions of litres of water from the basin each day by mining, petroleum and pastoral industries threatens the existence of the springs by reducing flow pressure in the aquifer to the extent that the springs dry up.

The federal parliamentary inquiry into Rio Tinto’s destruction in May of 46,000-year-old rock shelters at the Juukan Gorge in Western Australia has given the Arabana people the chance to put the fate of the springs on the national agenda.

“In our country there are over 6000 of these springs and they are of great significance to the Arabana people,” said the chair of the Arabana registered native title body, Brenda Underwood, in a submission to the inquiry.

“The springs themselves can be as small as a cup or large enough that you could swim in them, however, we don’t because of the stories associated with them. To us, and to many Australians, they are a beautiful sight in a harsh environment.

“Unfortunately, our springs are disappearing. How many have disappeared, we are not yet sure, but we are undertaking some research to find out just how many have actually disappeared.”

Rio Tinto’s blasting at Juukan Gorge drew widespread public criticism, prompted the resignation of its chief executive and put a spotlight on state and federal laws that are meant to balance the protection of Indigenous heritage against the commercial interests of miners.

In the case of the springs, another mining giant, BHP, is playing a central role. BHP is licensed by the South Australian government to extract the equivalent of up to 42 million litres of water per day from the Great Artesian Basin to operate the massive Olympic Dam copper, gold and uranium mine near Roxby Downs.

Millions of litres of water are also taken from the basin each day by pastoral stations and various petroleum companies, and more is lost through evaporation from thousands of disused bores that have not been properly capped.

RMIT environmental engineering expert Gavid Mudd has studied the mound springs closely for more than 20 years and said there was no doubt the extraction of so much groundwater had contributed to a reduction in flow pressure. Some had dried up entirely.

Although the Arabana submission to the inquiry acknowledges water users such as pastoralists and petroleum companies, it largely focuses on BHP’s water use and the unique South Australian laws that grant it a virtually unchallenged right to groundwater.

Under the 1982 Roxby Downs Indenture Act, the original Olympic Dam owner Western Mining and present owner BHP are afforded special privileges that trump Aboriginal heritage laws and almost all other state laws and regulations.

“Each day they [BHP] take 35 million litres of water from our springs and the Great Artesian Basin and now they wish to increase that amount to 42 million litres per day,” Ms Underwood’s statement said

“We are told that this will continue for at least the next 60 years. Given the number of springs that have disappeared, in 60 years we have a great fear that there will be none left whatsoever. The Arabana people have tasked me and the board of directors of the corporation to protect the springs. The big question is how?”

Ms Underwood and the 1000-strong Arabana community fear the South Australian government will be reluctant to change the status quo for BHP.

The mining company’s recent announcement to pause a planned $3 billion expansion of Olympic Dam is likely to see its water take remain about the mid 30 million litres per day mark.

The Arabana people have asked their Adelaide lawyer, Stephen Kenny, to advise them if the Commonwealth can get involved. Mr Kenny has said the Commonwealth could act to protect the springs, but previous cases such as that involving South Australia’s Hindmarsh Island suggested it would not.

 

 

 

November 23, 2020 - Posted by | aboriginal issues, environment, South Australia, uranium

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: