Rural drinking water catchments are not safe either. The Fitzroy River in Central Queensland is the water supply for the regional centre of Rockhampton and one of the major coastal estuaries which flows in to the Great Barrier Reef. However, there are over 30 coal mines within the Fitzroy River Basin which frequently discharge wastewater into the system and an escalating coal seam gas industry which is seeking to discharge even more.
In 2008, billions of litres of untreated water from an open-cut coal pit which was flooded after heavy rain at the Ensham mine, near Emerald, was discharged into the Nogoa River, a tributary of the Fitzroy River. Downstream water quality testing showed increasing salinity and sodium levels that were a threat to townships like Blackwater, Tieri, Bluff and Middlemount that were reliant on the river for drinking water supplies, and a danger to the health of the aquatic ecosystem.
The same problems occurred again during the floods of 2010, but on a grander scale with a larger number of mines affected. A number of mines have been fined for breaching discharge permits with releases into the Basin. Salinity levels within the Fitzroy River increased between June 2011 and February 2012 and Rockhampton Regional Council asked for legislation to require treatment of water by mining companies before it is discharged. Despite this, the Queensland Government chose instead to pass legislation making it easier for mines to discharge contaminated water under 'emergency' provisions.
Other impacts of open-cut coal mining on water resources in the catchment include the loss and depressurisation of aquifers, consumption of surface water for washing and dust suppression, creeks being mined and 'replaced' with artificial channels, and the creation of final pit voids which fill with groundwater and accumulate salt and toxins and can lead to acid mine drainage.