Experts weigh in on Alcoa water situation

Government advisors have expressed concerns over a bauxite mine in Perth, fearing the operation threatens the nearby Serpentine dam.

US mining company Alcoa has been operating in the jarrah forest region of Western Australia since the lease was first granted in 1961. The company’s WA mines are responsible for the production close to 36 million tonnes of bauxite each year.

Roughly 75 per cent of Alcoa’s bauxite, and 71 per cent of its alumina, comes from WA jarrah forests specifically.

But now experts fear the mine, which at its border operates just 300m from the major Perth dam, is a risk.

Chief among those concerns is the fear that spillage from the operation could seep into the dam. Government advisors have warned of the risk posed by heavy rainfall, which could wash chemical pollutants into the water supply.

Perth’s Serpentine dam holds 78 billion litres of water and forms a key part of the metropolitan areas drinking water supply network.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Alcoa said it was actively improving its water management and monitoring and had cut reportable drainage failures to 19 in 2022. Of these failures, only one affected a dam. Spill areas were cleaned, and no hydrocarbons were detected downstream from the mining operations.

This latest development follows the company’s WA water license being slashed by a third, with authorities citing unsustainable pressure on the local area as the cause.

“We are working with Alcoa to reduce the impacts of their abstraction, which is contributing to declining trends not only in the Pinjarra but also the Nambeelup sub-area,” a Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER) spokesperson said.

“These risks and impacts can be appropriately managed through reducing groundwater abstraction.

“The department will provide assistance to Alcoa for the investigation of water use efficiency.”

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