The Cadia open cut gold mine near Orange is a dizzyingly impressive hole in the ground. It’s impossible to look down into it, with its tiny trucks crawling up the sides, without a sense of awe. Last week, the State Government said yes to an expansion of operations to the east of the existing site. At its peak, the new mine is expected to produce a billion dollars worth of gold and copper every year. That’s a lot of money in anybody’s books.
But the expanded mine comes amid continued disquiet about its impact on local water supplies. Local farmers – a tiny drop in the financial ocean when set beside the giant mine – are alarmed about the draw down effect on groundwater. While the company has named 16 properties likely to be affected and has offered compensation, farmers just outside the seven kilometre zone worry that they will also suffer. There are also fears about the mine’s use of surface water in its operations, particularly if conditions continue to get hotter and drier. The expanded mine will require about 6 megalitres per day of additional water, an increase of about 12 per cent on its existing use.
As we know here in Bathurst, Cadia has long been eyeing off our relatively abundant water supply. Locals here in Bathurst continue to worry that if supplies in Orange dwindle, we will be asked to help out our neighbours – nothing wrong with that, except that this would be an indirect benefit to the Cadia mine. While Bathurst council has rejected this idea outright, the State Government’s enthusiasm for Cadia could see our own wishes overruled in the interests of the wider economy.
In the short term, there can be no doubt that the world values gold and copper and that we’re onto a very good thing. But over the long term, a new set of values – increasingly to be given monetary value – are emerging: water and food security and biodiversity. We have now said “yes” to Cadia but perhaps they should be pressed harder to give more to the environmental side of the ledger. What about making them fund wind power technology to be used in their own operations with side benefits for the local region? Yes, it would cost a lot, but they are making a lot.
Tracy Sorensen is the publicity officer for Bathurst Community Climate Action Network. Visit www.bccan.org.au