Alcoa has been warned of water hazards in Perth for years, so why is our largest dam at risk?

The latest concerns were raised in the government’s feedback on Plan 2023-27, which advisers said contained insufficient information to assess the risks to public drinking water catchments and dams and was not supported by peer-reviewed science.

The list of expectations

The consultants raised further concerns about Alcoa’s responses to a list of 12 expectations Cook made of the company’s future mining operations in its September 2022 approval of last year’s plan.

These expectations included a commitment for Alcoa to submit a 10-year mine plan for review by the governing body and that future permits must have the approval of Cook, Environment Secretary Reece Whitby and Water Secretary Simone McGurk.

Cook also wanted to reinstate a hydrology committee that closed in 2015 to advise the minister on the impact of bauxite mining on water movement in the Perth Hills.

This point was repeated by a Water Corporation spokeswoman who said there was capacity for a reconvene.

6 of Cook’s 12 expectations of Alcoa for future mine plans

  • Requesting Alcoa to submit a 10-year mine plan for evaluation prior to submitting the draft five-year MMP;
  • Ensure that the State Development Minister obtains approval from the Water Minister and the Environment Minister for permits;
  • Ensure that the submission and assessment of forest clearing notices occurs only after an MMP has been approved;
  • The proposed no-clearing MMP is to be implemented as part of Alcoa’s expansion activities currently under review by the EPA;
  • The MMP is intended to provide an overview of Alcoa’s rehabilitation program; And
  • That the Bauxite Hydrology Committee or similar independent scientific advisory body be reestablished to report to the Government on mining hydrology and river basin protection.

Despite Cook’s stern expectations, the government’s advice quashed Alcoa’s response, claiming that the latest plan was limited, incomplete and not subject to peer review.

Green MP Brad Pettit questioned whether political pressure played a role in approving Alcoa’s mining plans, while bureaucrats warned of a major threat to Perth’s drinking water.

Cook, Whitby and McGurk met with Alcoa on December 15 last year, following a November meeting between Premier Mark McGowan and Roy Harvey, Alcoa’s global chief executive.

Washington State Development Secretary Roger Cook.

Washington State Development Secretary Roger Cook.Credit:Hamish Hastie

A state government spokesman said McGowan and the senior ministers had made it clear at their meetings that the risks to Perth’s water sources needed to be properly managed.

In addition to Cook’s 12 expectations, the spokesman said Alcoa’s 2022-26 mining plan was approved on the condition that higher risk areas would not be mined without providing a revised risk management plan that addresses government concerns.

“To date, Alcoa has not addressed these concerns and is not currently mining in these areas,” he said.

A JTSI spokesman said the government body — known as the Mining and Management Program Liaison Group — would not recommend permitting mining in these higher-risk areas until it is satisfied that concerns have been addressed.

An Alcoa spokeswoman said the company is operating according to its mining and management programs, takes its responsibilities seriously and its mining operations have never impacted the drinking water supply.

“We continue to work collaboratively with relevant government agencies to meet changing environmental management expectations,” she said.

Water Corporation tests of the Perth Dam’s water quality from 2019 to 2022 revealed no issues.

How does Alcoa get its approvals?

Alcoa’s authorization to mine the Darling Scarp on a lease stretching from Collie to Gidgegannup stems from a state treaty first signed by the Charles Court government in 1961.

It is this legislation and subsequent amending legislation that includes the requirement for annual submission of mine management plans, their review by the governing body and approval requirements by the State Secretary for Development.


This body is chaired by JTSI and consists of public officials from Water Corporation; DWER; the Departments of Mining, Industrial Regulation and Safety; conservation of biodiversity and attractions; and planning, land and heritage.

The panel oversees all of Alcoa’s bauxite mining operations, including vegetation clearing permits and mine design, but its decisions are not public and there is no opportunity for public comment.

Pettitt called for an overhaul of permitting procedures for Alcoa’s bauxite mining. Alcoa has been warned of water hazards in Perth for years, so why is our largest dam at risk?

Brian Lowry

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