Flinders University study takes aim at Queensland coal mine over concern for wetlands

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Research led by Flinders University is renewing calls to protect the source of water and aquifers supporting the ecologically significant Doongmabulla Springs Complex 

Little Moses, an outcrop spring at the Doongmabulla Springs Complex in central queensland is under threat if the Carmichael coal mine opens – photo R Keegan-Treloar Flinders University

According to Flinders University the Doongmabulla Springs Complex situated in central Queensland should be protected from a proposed Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee Basin.

As work on the Bravus (previously Adani) mine progresses, leading groundwater scientists warn more research is needed to measure and fully understand the hydraulic pressure on the possible aquifer sources that feed the spiritually and ecologically important springs located near the mine 300km from the east coast.

“Even if the spring’s source aquifer is partially dewatered for mining operations, there is a serious threat of permanent damage,” says Flinders University PhD candidate Mr Robin Keegan-Treloar, the lead author of a recent paper.

“Our study expands on existing water level data, perhaps in the most rigorous analysis so far, and even now we cannot definitively identify the source of water to the springs. 

“While the Triassic Formations are more likely to have adequate hydraulic head to support spring flow, significant uncertainty exists in the conceptual model assessment due to hydraulic head measurement scarcity, particularly in the vicinity of the springs of this nationally (DIWA) important wetland,” Mr Keegan-Treloar says.

Despite previous warnings, and remaining uncertainties over the effects of nearby mining operations, the mine is still going ahead, says senior author, Flinders University Professor Adrian Werner, from the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training.

“These findings have important implications given that the Permian Formations will be dewatered by the operation of the nearby Carmichael coal mine,” Professor Werner says.

The research group says the techniques used in the latest study help to identify and quantify conceptual model uncertainties for further research efforts. The group is doing follow-up studies using water chemistry, geophysics and numerical modelling at the site. 

The authors declare no financial or personal conflict of interest. 

The paper, Application of Indicator Kriging to hydraulic head data to test alternative conceptual models for spring source aquifers (2021) by Robin Keegan-Treloar, Adrian Werner, Dylan Irvine (CDU) and Eddie Banks has been published in the Journal of Hydrogeology (Elsevier), Vol 601 October 2021 DOI: 10.1016/j.jhydrol.2021.126808  

Acknowledgements: The paper is funded by ARC Linkage Project (LP190100713) – which involves research at Flinders University, Charles Darwin University, University of Queensland, Monash University, RMIT and La Trobe University – and Land Services of Coast and Country Inc.

Not-for-profit Queensland land use consultant Mr Derec Davies, from Coast and Country Inc natural resources management in Brisbane, says climate change and global warming is already affecting wetlands around Australia – without the additional pressure of enterprises such as overuse of irrigation, mining, and other industry. “Corporate and government players have an increasing responsibility to look after these precious natural wetlands, and focus instead on sustainable practices and operations,” Mr Davies says.