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26/10 - French's fear over mine water flows

Mothball, the wombat which inspired Jackie French's international best-selling children's book Diary of a Wombat, still lives in a burrow she dug under the author's house.
But French fears the famous Mothball (now 15-years-old, greying and given to standing on logs to literally stare down younger wombats) and the abundant wildlife on her river valley property face an uncertain and potentially drier future.

''The valley, all the animals and plants that live here depend on water without it, everything will die.''

After recently obtaining a copy of the environmental assessment for the proposed Dargues Reef goldmine at Majors Creek, French and her partner Bryan Sullivan discovered the mine would use 130 megalitres of water a year, with 66 megalitres to be sourced from groundwater. The proposed mine is around 40km from Braidwood, and only 4km upstream from French's property, Neverbreak Hills, in the Araluen Valley.

''It is an extraordinary, devastating amount of water to be taking at a time when governments are talking about the need to give water back to the environment,'' she said.

A spokesman for Cortona Resources, the West Australian company planning to develop the mine, said managing director Peter van der Borgh was on a flight to Canberra yesterday and could not be contacted. Mitchell Bland, a NSW environmental consultant who coordinated the mine's environmental assessment report, disputes French's claim that groundwater extraction will affect the valley's wildlife.

''We knew groundwater was going to be an issue, which is why we put a lot of effort into that aspect of the report,'' he said. Gaia Research, the company which prepared the environmental study, spent $200,000 on computer modelling to assess the impact of groundwater extraction.

Mr Bland said the modelling did not factor in climate change scenarios for future water availability ''because there were too many variables''.

French said the goldmine ''seemed like a good plan for the area'' until she discovered the amount of water use involved. She also discovered the mine proposal included a 25m high tailings dam, covering 9ha, just 4km above her property.

For more on this story, including French's comments on what the valley has meant for her writing, see the print edition of today's Canberra Times.

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