Press release

Coal Authority scheme to protect important drinking water source

A new protection scheme at Whitburn will prevent an important drinking water source from contamination by mine water.

A new protection scheme developed by the Coal Authority has been switched on at Whitburn 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 thousands of 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 from the rocks, mainly salt and iron. 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.”

Read more information about the Whitburn aquifer protection scheme.

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 schemes across Britain to manage mine water and protect several regionally important aquifers from the impacts of historical coal mining.

ENDS