The Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR), the NSW independent water regulator, has commenced prosecution in the Land and Environment Court against Whitehaven Coal over two alleged breaches of the Water Management Act at its Maules Creek coalmine in the northwest of the state.

The Environmental Defenders Office, on behalf of Lock the Gate, had made complaints in relation to Whitehaven Coal’s water use at the Maules Creek site over several years, alleging the taking of significant quantities of surface water without appropriate water licences. This is a massive coal project situated in an agricultural region that has been suffering through a devastating drought.

NRAR is charging the Whitehaven Coal-owned Maules Creek Coal Pty Ltd with two alleged breaches of section 60A(2) of the Water Management Act 2000 for taking water without an access licence over a three-year period between 2016 and 2019, or in the alternative section 60C(2) at the mine near Boggabri.

The maximum penalty for a breach of section 60A(2) for a company is $2,002,000.

“We are really pleased to see the regulator has decided to take action in this case,” Elaine Johnson, EDO Principal Solicitor, Sydney, said.

The prosecution came as the NSW Independent Planning Commission commenced public hearings for another Whitehaven Coal project, the Vickery mine, in the Gunnedah region.

“Concerns are being consistently raised in those hearings by local farmers and the community about the impact of that mine on water availability for primary producers,” Elaine Johnson said.