by Andrea Davy
FOR the past eight years, bores at New Acland Mine have been used very little.
This is despite the fact an open-cut coal mine is operating non-stop, a 27-hectare pivot is growing barley, other fodder crops are being irrigated and about 2800 head of cattle are being watered at the site.
That's because since 2009, the mine, which is situated north-west of Oakey and was opened in 2002, has operated with purchased water that flows directly from the Toowoomba Regional Council's Wetalla recycled water treatment plant.
New Hope executive general manager for mining Jim Randell said it would come as a surprise to some the mine was not extracting water from the underground aquifers.
"Except for the rainwater that falls on the site, all the water comes from Wetalla," he said.
"In essence, there has been no bore water or underground water used at the mine since 2009.
"The only exception for that is we do have a bore that services our drinking and showering requirements, so the potable water, we take from the aquifers here at the mine."
Mr Randell witnessed the company's transition to recycled water.
"There was a vote in Toowoomba not to include recycled water back into the (city's) system," he said.
"This presented an opportunity for New Acland to do a commercial arrangement with the Toowoomba Regional Council to purchase the recycled water and pump it out here to the mine.
"So we did the deal, purchased the water and then installed a 47-kilometre long pipeline."
While that sounds simple enough, the pipeline took six months to build and was a $30-million project.
Today, New Acland pays about $10million a year to the Toowoomba Regional Council for the water.
"The ratepayers should be quite happy as that offsets their rates," Mr Randell said.
Acland Pastoral farm manager Steve Erbacher said the recycled water also paved the way for expanded cropping on the company's agricultural land holdings surrounding the mine.
"We wouldn't be able to irrigate without the Wetalla water, unless we used the underground aquifers," he said.
A 27-hectare pivot is currently aiding the growth of a barley crop.
"So it will grow a barley crop this winter and go back to corn in the summer months," he said.
"Each year it grows two forage crops, and with those crops, we either silage them, or bale them, or graze them."
Mr Randell described the water as "good quality and consistent".
"We take only a small portion of the Wetalla water," he said.
"The rest of it goes down a creek (Gowrie) and is picked up by local irrigators. They have been using it a lot longer than we have so we know it's very, very good water."
After selling some fodder to a local dairy farmer, New Acland followed up the deal with scientific testing on the milk.
Also, New Acland Pastoral Company's angus cattle were tested during their rehabilitated grazing trials.
"We had no concerns about the water due to its extensive use historically, but we have run every other test just to make sure that it's all okay. And it has no impact at all," Mr Randell said.