Every year, the coal industry in New South Wales and Queensland consumes as much freshwater as the entire population of greater Sydney or every household in Queensland, new research shows.

Water for coal, by Ian Overton, Adjunct Associate Professor in Water Resources at the University of Adelaide’s Centre for Global Food and Resources, and released today by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), finds:

  • The coal industry in NSW and Queensland consumes 383 billion litres of freshwater every year, which is equivalent to the domestic water use of 5.2 million people.
  • Coal power uses 120 times as much water as wind or solar do to produce the same amount of electricity.
  • Coal mining and coal-fired power consumes about 4.3 per cent of all water used in NSW and Queensland.

“Coal mines and coal-fired power stations are massive water users on this, the world’s driest inhabited continent,” said ACF’s Chief Executive Officer, Kelly O’Shanassy.

“While farmers recover from the last devastating drought and prepare for the next, each year the coal industry uses as much freshwater as every household in Queensland or the entire population of Sydney.

“Not only do coal mines and coal-fired power stations consume vast quantities of water that could otherwise support people, wetlands and wildlife, the coal industry also contaminates water, leaving toxic ash dams and leeching poisonous water into creeks and rivers.

“Coal mining in Australia already faces a bleak future as the world acknowledges the enormous threats posed by global heating. 

“The coal industry does not always pay a fair amount for the water it uses. Adani’s mine was granted a 60-year licence to take unlimited groundwater virtually for free.

“Most of Australia’s coal-fired power plants are well past their design life use-by dates. They are old, increasingly unreliable and extremely polluting.

“When you add coal-fired electricity’s water consumption and contamination to its climate pollution, it’s clear Australia should rapidly replace coal-fired power with clean energy.

“Becoming a modern renewable energy nation will enable us to weather future shocks and become a safer, more sustainable and resilient country.”

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