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Environment Protection Authority

Audit of NSW mine dams finds strong compliance but room to improve

Media release: 8 September 2017

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA), Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) and the Resources Regulator have identified areas for industry improvement following joint NSW Government agency compliance audits at 14 mines. The audits focused on the environmental management of tailings, wastewater holding and sedimentation dams following reportable incidents at coal mine dam facilities in 2015/2016.

DPE’s Executive Director Resource Assessments & Compliance, Dr Oliver Holm said the audit was an opportunity to review mine tailings and sediment dams and identify areas where industry needed to focus improvements. 

“We selected 14 mines as the review sample, including coal mines and facilities that mine and process minerals. While the non-compliances we found were considered to pose a low environmental risk, all three agencies are ensuring a rigorous follow-up process.” 

The audits found the compliance and environmental performance of dam facilities could be improved by:

  • ensuring dam water levels are effectively managed to minimise or prevent overtopping and uncontrolled discharges during heavy rainfall events
  • developing and implementing consistent operational documentation and procedures
  • ensuring regular maintenance of critical plant and equipment is carried out
  • testing and updating dam safety management plans regularly

EPA’s Acting Chief Environmental Regulator Gary Whytcross said the audit had provided valuable information into how current measures were working and how they needed to be improved to address recent dam failures.

“Strict regulation is already in place to ensure we minimise the footprint of mine activities on the environment however we need to constantly review the status quo to ensure the current rules are adequate and mines are following them consistently,” Mr Whytcross said.

“Heavy rain does not happen every day, but our experience of heavy downfalls over recent years has shown us that dams without adequate capacity can overtop or fail, polluting the downstream environment.

“This audit of dams in NSW mines is designed to inform and direct our regulatory work. The results show that while compliance is reasonably high, there is room for improvement. 

To read the report visit

The regulation of dam mines is the responsibility of three State Government bodies:

  • The EPA is responsible for surface water and groundwater pollution from all dams at sites that are required to hold an environment protection licence.
  • Resources Regulator regulates mines and their accompanying regulations under the Mining Act 1992, Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the general WHS laws) and the Work Health and Safety (Mines and Petroleum Sites) Act 2013, 
  • The Department of Planning and Environment regulates the approval and consents for mines under the Planning and Assessment Act 1979.

Contact: EPA public affairs

Page last updated: 08 September 2017