Tension over mine water

TENSIONS between the Queensland Resources Council and the State Government grew during the summer floods as mine operators pushed for approvals to discharge mine water into the Fitzroy Basin.

The 2010-2011 summer floods filled mine pits with water throughout the Fitzroy Basin, stopping almost all mine operations in the region, and developing what could have been an environmental hazard due to water deteriorating in quality as it sat in pits.

That was according to QRC chief executive Michael Roche, who spoke to the Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry yesterday about what the QRC believed was a lack of suitable mechanism to release mine water during floods.

His submission to the inquiry detailed that the "only mechanism offered by DERM was transitional environmental permits", which allow mines to release water under certain conditions outside of their environmental applications, such as times of high flows in water courses.

Mr Roche's deputation also mentioned speaking to Premier Anna Bligh's office regarding strained tensions between the industry body and the Government, saying "it would be nice if there was a show of interest" from then Environment Minister Kate Jones' office.

The QRC submission detailed: "Experience has shown that the TEPs which have been approved most quickly have tended to relate to mines which are able to discharge directly to major rivers, so that there is a very high dilution rate, particularly given that the flow rates in those rivers are already high."

Apart from the issue of losing a 'window of opportunity' to release water prior to flooding, QRC had a critical concern about the increased hazard if water was required to accumulate and probably deteriorate in quality until the next period of high flow that may occur during the current wet season, at which time there would be a risk of uncontrolled release.

"Additionally, QRC was concerned to ensure that mines are able to recover their operations, in the same way as other businesses around Queensland.

"Accordingly, QRC wrote to the Premier on 28 January 2011 seeking an emergency response, but that was declined on 4 February 2011."

In September this year, the DERM completed the latest environmental values and water-uality objectives for the Fitzroy Basin, after lengthy two-year negotiations that were first prompted by the release of mine water from Ensham Mine in 2008.

For more information on the new environmental values, go to: www.derm.qld.gov.au.  

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