78 environmental breaches from CQ coal sites since 2010
FLOODED mines have been releasing water into rivers and streams without permission for years, with government departments finding at least 78 environmental breaches from Central Queensland coal sites since 2010.
Both the mining industry and state government have stated the environmental impacts of mine-water going into rivers and creeks was negligible because it was heavily diluted by floodwaters but primary producers were less convinced.
The latest figures follow revelations that at least six Bowen Basin coalmines - west of Mackay and Rockhampton - are under investigation for "non-compliant" discharges of mine site water in January alone.
Figures released by the Department of Environment suggest in the 2010-11 financial year - when enormous amounts of rain inundated much of the state - there were 56 environmental breaches shared between 22 Bowen Basin coalmines as they released water without government approval.
In 2012, there were 22 breaches among 10 coalmines in the same region.
AgForce general president Ian Burnett said farmers remained wary of how mine water was being released as far back as 2008, with some producers preferring to rely on intuition rather than laboratory results.
Some of these have lived on the land for generations.
Mr Burnett - who lives upstream from the Ensham Mine on the Nogoa River - said farmers found it hard to prove water quality was poor, even as cattle refused to drink.
"There have been cases where stock would no longer drink the water downstream of the mine site," he said.
When asked if this could be a result of floodwaters affecting water quality, he said it was possible.
"But some reports we've had have come quite a while after the flood, when the (mine) water has been discharged," he said.
Professor Chris Moran from the University of Queensland's Sustainable Minerals Institute said mine water was often high in salt, though he added it may have "trace elements" of heavy metals.
High amounts of salt in water if collected by irrigators, would pose issues with watering crops or animals.
"The most important thing that happens in coalmining in Central Queensland relates to thousands of years of built-up salts in the landscape," he said.
"If there is no flow (in the waterway), there is an ecological threat to the release," he said.
"It's there that you have to be careful because you don't want to challenge the ecology of these smaller systems."
When the volume of water through these streams increases, anything added will likely be swept away.
But if the waterway was decreasing at the time when mine water was discharged, remnants could remain when the creek or river dries up.
This year, 30 Central Queensland coalmines were allowed by the Department of Environment to release water into the Fitzroy River catchment in January following heavy rains caused by ex-tropical cyclone Oswald. Six were under investigation for releasing water in breach of environmental conditions.
Environment Minister Andrew Powell has repeatedly said it was unlikely that any environmental impacts would be caused by the release of mine water into the Fitzroy River systems.
He said his department had been monitoring mine releases.