ACTION to protect drinking water supplies from contamination will come under public scrutiny later this month.
The Coal Authority has devised a plan to reduce rising levels of mine water from collieries which closed in the early 1990s.
If water is allowed to continue rising it is likely to result in contamination of an overlying aquifer which supplies drinking water to 30,000 residents in Sunderland and South Tyneside.
Now in a bid to avoid that happening a scheme has been devised to utilise an existing borehole on the site of the former Whitburn Colliery to abstract mine water from coal workings 190 metres below ground.
The water would then be discharged directly into the sea via new outfall pipe drilled to a point below low tide.
The public is being invited to a ‘drop in’ day at Whitburn Library in Mill Lane on Tuesday between 2pm and 7pm, where the plans can be scrutinised.
Coal Authority representatives will also be on hand to explain the proposals.
John Delaney, corporate manager with The Coal Authority, said: “A long history of underground mining in the Tyne and Wear area came to an end in the early 1990s with the closure of Westoe and Wearmouth collieries.
“Pumping of mine water also ceased at this time and, as a consequence, water levels within workings across the mining block began to rise.
“As water flows into and through the old mine workings it picks up minerals, in particular salt and iron, gradually filling and rising up mined-out seams and shafts.
“If the mine water is allowed to continue its uncontrolled rise, it is likely to result in significant contamination of the overlying aquifer.
“This principal aquifer currently provides drinking water for distribution to significant parts of Sunderland and South Tyneside and its contamination must be avoided.”
Whitburn environmental campaigner Bob Latimer described the latest plans as “a cheap fix”.
He said: “Minewater elsewhere, including Horden and Dawdon, has been treated before being discharged to sea. This minewater should be treated too, and if it isn’t we should be informed why not. We have a situation here now that we are being told the mine water will reach the aquifer, but it is The Coal Authority’s problem, they created it.
“Just dumping it in the sea – out of sight, out of mind – is a cheap fix.
“There should be a full inquiry into what has gone wrong here before any further action is taken and South Tyneside Council should be organising this.
“The generations to come will not thank any of us if this minewater dumping is allowed to go ahead.
“Remember, once it starts it is forever.”
Aquifer plan in operation
n The existing borehole at the former Whitburn Colliery would be utilised to abstract minewater from old workings at a depth of 190 metres.
n The water would be discharged directly to the sea via a new outfall pipe drilled to a point below low tide.
n The Authority is obtaining specialist advice, supported by detailed computer modelling, in order to assess the potential environmental and ecological consequences of the discharge.
n Long-term monitoring of the discharge will be carried out by the Environment Agency.
n The scheme is being designed to have very little visual impact within Whitburn Coastal Park.
n All that should be seen will be a secure compound that will be partially screened by existing shrubs and trees.