Coal Authority Scheme to protect drinking water source from contamination

29 January 2016

A new protection scheme developed by the Coal Authority was switched on at Whitburn today to prevent an important drinking water source from contamination by mine water.

The scheme will stop mine water from entering the limestone rocks beneath the surface, which hold the drinking water source for over 30,000 homes and businesses in South Tyneside and Sunderland.

Mine water is water which has made its way into old mine workings and has picked up naturally occurring minerals, mainly salt and iron, from the rocks. Since coal mining came to an end in the area in the 1990s mine water has been rising up slowly through the old mine workings.

The new scheme has been designed to have minimal visual impact and will pump the mine water from the abandoned workings deep beneath Whitburn Coastal Park, controlling it at around 50 metres below ground. It will then be transported 230 metres out to sea, beyond the low-tide level, where it will be dispersed by natural processes.

The new scheme is part of a wider programme of protection schemes which the Coal Authority is developing and operating throughout the region to address the impacts of rising mine water from historical coal mining.

Tracey Davies, Head of Environment, Coal Authority, said:

“The protection scheme is the latest of three schemes that we have developed locally to prevent the contamination of this important drinking water source. The implementation of the new scheme follows successful trials at Whitburn to manage the rise in mine water levels from within the old coal mine workings.

“We have undertaken specialist studies to model the impact of the mine water discharge and taken specialist environmental advice to ensure the scheme meets the relevant quality standards. We will continue to work with the Environment Agency to monitor the scheme and ensure these standards continue to be met to protect the marine environment.”

For more information about the Whitburn aquifer protection scheme visit: www2.groundstability.com  

WHAT IS MINE WATER?

• When coal mines are operational water is pumped from underground workings to keep them dry so that the coal can be mined. Historically, when the mines closed these pumps were turned off and the abandoned workings then filled up with water.

• Water makes its way into old mine workings and picks up naturally occurring minerals, mainly salt and iron, from the rocks. This is called mine water.

• Left unmanaged this water can make its way into overlying aquifers, which leads to the contamination of important sources of drinking water.

• The Coal Authority has built treatment schemes across Britain to manage mine water and protect several regionally important aquifers from the impacts of historical coal mining.

• Further information, including photographs, of the Whitburn aquifer protection scheme are available at www2.groundstability.com – high resolution images can be provided on request.

• In the early 1990’s, pumping of mine water stopped in the Tyne and Wear area. As a consequence water levels have risen in the abandoned coal mine workings from South Shields to Sunderland.

• The Coal Authority provides expert advice and creative solutions to manage the public safety and environmental issues from coal and metal mining. Our team works to resolve the impacts of mining by developing innovative solutions and technologies. We provide advice and services to governments, public bodies, organisations and landowners. We also regulate the coal industry in Britain and manage its long term mining legacies. For more information about our work visit www.gov.uk/coalauthority

For more information please contact Joanne Wilson on 07788 335769 or by email joannewilson@coal.gov.uk

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