Springs that feed Belubula River to be 'plugged'? Gold miner's contentious proposition

Dub Price stands at the back of his home on
Dub Price stands at the back of his home on "Weemala". In the far distance is Carcoar Dam, a reservoir he believes will be threatened by a proposed new gold mine at the headwaters of the Belubula River.

DUB Price “lives and breathes” the Belubula River, running a herd of 800 to 1000 grassfed Angus and 600 Dohne ewes.

The river cuts through his property, offering the only water security bar some groundwater dams. 

For the three months of winter this year where Mr Price lives – just outside Blayney in the Central West – the Belubula was dry.

There was one hole under a bridge between Bathurst and Blayney that didn’t dry up, and he negotiated a deal with Transport NSW to allow his cattle access to that valuable drinking water.

But then in September six springs just above his 400-hectare property “Weemala”, which feed the Belubula River started working and within a week the river was full and running.

There was no rain event to spark the springs to life.

It’s one of the mysteries of underground water that makes Mr Price suggest such fragile systems should not be interfered with, for fear of irreversibly damaging them.

Now, according to its preliminary environmental assessment, Regis Resources, a gold miner, wants to put a tailings dam on top of those springs.

Mr Price believes his family’s property and his parents David and Julie’s two properties “Allonby” and “Linfern”, on the river’s opposite banks, will be ruined if the contentious gold mining project is approved by the state government.

Not only that, Mr Price believes the Belubula River will be contaminated with toxins including cyanide, arsenic and lead, and in turn Carcoar Dam, and eventually the Lachlan River will be affected.

Mr Price’s wife Rebecca has been poring through the little information available about the project – a 162-page document – and believes what is already out there suggests the river is at threat.

“There will be eight cyanide tanks 16 metres high,” she said, "the cyanide will be used to process the gold from ore and then pumped into the tailings dam”.

“Cyanide has been banned in nine countries, Korea, Ecuador, Argentina, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Greece, Turkey, Germany and Hungary and some US states,” she said, “it should be banned here”.

The Prices have four children, Lachlan, 16, Harry, 14, Eva, 12, and Cam, 9 – their children would represent the fourth generation of one family to farm the headwaters of the Belubula.

“We just want to let people know about the project,” said Mrs Price, “Regis has been here for six years preparing its environmental statement, when it’s released we, the public, will have just 28 days to make submissions about it.” 

Dub, Lachlan, Harry and Rebecca Price stand near the gateway of their property. The treeline below is the Belubula River tracking through “Weemala”.

Dub, Lachlan, Harry and Rebecca Price stand near the gateway of their property. The treeline below is the Belubula River tracking through “Weemala”.

Tony McPaul, Regis Resources, said the company’s Environmental Impact Study had not yet been lodged, but the company was looking to finalise it in March.

He would not be drawn on the number of springs affected by the proposed tailings dam.

“We have water experts, hydrologists and groundwater specialists all looking at the project and their studies will become part of the final EIS put to the Planning and Enviornment Department,” he said.

Mr McPaul said cyanide would be used to separate the gold from other matter removed from the open cut pit, but then treated in a “cyanide destruction plant” before being piped into the tailings dam.

“We’ve been trying to be as open and transparent as possible in the community, but it’s really too early to be answering a lot of the questions being asked.

Those questions will be answered as part of the finalisation of the EIS.” Similarly the Planning Department indicated while it was aware of the project, it was yet to receive an EIS and could make no comment.

The project, which promises an Australian first by bringing water from eastern drainage country near Lithgow to the inland, has inadvertently benefited from a change of law that will stop Centennial Coal’s Springvale colliery releasing saline water into the Coxs River.

Coxs River is regulated by the Warrangamba Dam, which supplies much of Sydney’s drinking water.

Conservation group 4Nature last year won a landmark court case against that water’s release.

The Land and Environment Court’s decision was subsequently neutralised by legislative changes that allowed the colliery to continue operating, but set a deadline for the releases of untreated water to cease.

President of 4Nature Andrew Cox said the water was high in nutrients, salts and metals and is still being released into the Coxs River.

Centennial Coal is now building a reverse osmosis plant and a pipeline to Mt Piper to cool Mt Piper power station.

“An advantage of that decision and subsequent legislation is that it will also take the load off Fish River, the water from which is now being used to cool Mt Piper,” he said.

Colong Foundation for Wilderness executive director Keith Muir said there was there was no reason Oberon’s water needs should come second to a power station.

The Colong Foundation monitors NSW wilderness areas, identifies threats and formulates site specific protection remedies.

Mr Muir said untreated water from Springvale Colliery was capable of killing macroinverterbrates, including crayfish and crustaceans, important food for fish and birds.

He said treating such water needed to be considered part of the operating costs of any mining operation.