Opinion - What can happen when you put your water supply in the hands of a mining company?

Published: December 11, 2013

Those of you on Facebook might like to have a read of some of the personal stories from people in Dysart who are dealing with a shut-off of their water supply today on the group “Water - Dysart, Queensland. A place for people to discuss water issues.” 

Why is this relevant to the Galilee Basin? Well this is what can happen when you put your water supply in the hands of a mining company.

Some background:

Dysart's town water comes from the Calverts Dam on the Mackenzie River. The Dam is owned by BMA (BHP Mitsubishi Alliance) and under an agreement with Isaac Regional Council they supply water to the (council owned) town water treatment facility.

Dysart has been having trouble with their water quality, on and off for years, the Calverts Dam suffers from algal blooms in the summer months with put the water treatment facility into overdrive trying to clean the water before it gets to the community. The facility often fails and the people of Dysart have to take time out of their day to collect drinking water from council offices (strictly 2L per person per day) so they don't have to drink the smelly, off coloured and potentially toxic water coming from their taps. 

In the last few days on the facebook group there have been complaints from people of coming out in rashes from bathing in the water. This ABC story reports that the day care centre has been shut down for days due to the water issues.

Finally today Isaac Council have now shut off water supply to the town and have ordered water trucks after what is being reported as a major failure with the treatment plant. The people of Dysart have to bring their own containers to collection points and line up for hours for water. 

People are saying they feel like they live in a developing country.

Why is this happening?

I haven't been able to get to the bottom of the question "why does BMA still own the water supply for Dysart!?" but I can imagine the reason that this mining town, which was purpose built to service the mine, would rely on a mining company, the main employer in the area, to provide a service like this. While Alpha and Jericho are pre-existing towns they seem to be heading down exactly the same path, along with many cattle stations in the region. "Mining companies want to come here they should make sure the people who live here can keep going about their business" is the logic.

We'll BMA could and should do more about the algal blooms in the water supply they're sending to Dysart but they're a company out to mine coal and make money, so of course they'll do the least they have to do under the agreement they have with the council. Now Isaac Regional Council are taking the blame for something they literally have no control over (BMA won't even let them in to inspect the dam!). 

Could this happen in the Galilee Basin too? 

Do the people of Alpha and Jericho want to put themselves at the mercy of GVK Hancock and Waratah Coal? Does Barcaldine Regional Council want to deal with the fall out when things go wrong? Do landholders who give up their reliable supply of groundwater in return for trucked or piped water want to see a situation like the one in Dysart, where "force majeure" means that the company can't comply with their agreements and cattle go thirsty?

We heard at the Alpha Mining Field Day that the State Government wants individuals to deal with the companies themselves to come to agreements that are 'mutually agreeable'. That sounds to me as if the Government wants to wash its hands of responsibility for what might come. They'll say "you landholders were too silly to get a 'water tight' agreement" and those of you that try your darndest to get a solid agreement will be called "unreasonable". Well! 

The people of Dysart probably never thought this could happen to them, lining up out the front of council waiting for water so they can flush their toilets! People who will be affected by these Galilee Mines (if they ever go ahead) have is one small window of opportunity to protect your water. If that means the mines have to be much smaller or the company and government have to prove without a shadow of a doubt there will be enough water for all forever under an alternative supply scheme and the people will be able to control the quality of that water... so be it. Water is more precious than coal.  

I'm happy to talk to anyone who is concerned about the impact of these mines on your water supply, and what you can do to protect it. I believe this is something the community of BRC needs to deal with together.

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