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Water Quality in the Fitzroy River

Background
Following the Jan-Feb 2008 floods in the upper Nogoa River, levee banks at Ensham Mine, 35km east of Emerald, were overtopped and river water flooded into open cut pits at the mine.

The government allowed Ensham to discharge 138,000 megalitres of water with a salinity level up to 1200 μS/cm. [Salinity is measured by Electrical Conductivity in micro Siemens per centimetre (μS/cm). Drinking water is between 0 and 1500 μS/cm and sea water is 55,000 μS/cm.]

They also allowed 3000 μS/cm water to be released from Goonyella Mine into the Isaac River.

People in Blackwater, Bluff, and other towns in the area started complaining about poor water quality.  Graziers reported discoloured fish in the river and cows refusing to drink river water.    Farmers were concerned about the safety of irrigating crops using river water.  

The barrage of public complaint during winter 2008 were originally ignored by the state government, but they eventually took it seriously and set up a Technical Working Group (TWG) to look into the problem and come up with solutions to deal with saline water in the river. 

Qld Water Quality Guidelines indicate that the normal levels for salinity in the Fitzroy are between 130 and
510 μS/cm. We do not know the effect on the natural aquatic ecology of this river system from prolonged
exposure to water above 510 μS/cm.  We are highly critical of EPA for allowing high levels of salinity in the river water.

The four main areas of concern are –
(1) Human health,
(2) Agriculture (irrigation and stock watering),
(3) Industry – specifically Stanwell Power Station, and
(4) The natural aquatic and riparian ecology of the river system.

The first three have received plenty of publicity. CCC’s role is to keep pushing on number four.

Clearly, salinity is not the only issue and we are concerned about a host of other contaminants.   CCC has been represented on the Fitzroy River Water Quality Technical Working Group (TWG).

Two investigations were done into the problem -

The Hart Report, and  The Cumulative Impact Study 

A summary of the situation is now available from the DERM Fitzroy River website. 

Current Situation
The TWG has now changed into the Fitzroy Water Quality Advisory Group (FWQAG) which will help manage water quality issues in the Fitzroy River basin.  It will take a longer term view than the TWG which mainly dealt with the Ensham pumpout issue, and will cover the whole of the Fitzroy Basin.   CCC continues to be represented on this group. Our main role is to ensure that the recommendations of the two reports, etc, are implemented fully and not buried by the bureaucracy.  Key messages from FWQAG meetings are available at that page.  

Mine water discharges are listed at http://www.fitzroyriver.qld.gov.au/waterquality/water-releases.html