Lock the Gate Alliance says the release of water more than 1000 times saltier than existing background levels from the Ensham Coal Mine into the Nogoa River in Central Queensland is proof the state’s environmental laws are not up to scratch.
According to the Environment Department’s website, Ensham began releasing water on March 18, reporting it was discharging at a rate of 2,700 L/s with a salinity of 9,430 μS/cm.
The river’s background salinity is recorded at just 92 μS/cm.
“That means hundreds of millions of litres of water more salty than the average salt water swimming pool are being discharged into a freshwater river,” said Lock the Gate Alliance Queensland spokesperson Ellie Smith.
“We also know there are likely to be high levels of heavy metals and other contaminants being discharged by this mine, however that detail is not made public.
“The department website states that releases are within permitted levels but only weekly monitoring is required at this site, so it is not possible to assess exactly what the contaminant levels are at all times.
“Lock the Gate Alliance argues that no mine should be permitted to discharge polluted water, and instead mining companies should be required to treat all waste water by reverse osmosis and re-use it on site where possible.
“It’s hard to believe this mine was flooding, given nearby Fairbairn dam is still only at 21 percent capacity. It instead appears as though Ensham has taken the opportunity, while the river is flowing, to release dirty, polluted water that has built up in its mine pits over time.
“Ensham is also not the only mine to have released water during recent months, with discharges into the Fitzroy River recorded from the Goonyella North, Goonyella Riverside, Cook Colliery and others this wet season.
“This isn’t acceptable, particularly when all this water eventually flows into the Great Barrier Reef.”
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Ensham has a history of significant flooding - in 2008 Ensham was inundated with floodwaters from the nearby Nogoa River, which filled two of its six coal pits with more than 100,000 ML of water.
The floods shut down the industry for months and the mining company was forced to pump the coal-laden water into the Fitzroy catchment, which flows to the ocean and the Southern Great Barrier Reef.
Disappointingly, the company behind the mine, Idemitsu, has been able to use a loophole to escape recently introduced mining rehabilitation requirements by the Queensland Government, and will be allowed to leave giant pit voids when mining ceases.