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Fears for river

Monday, 19th December, 2011

Scientists study chemical contamination in waterways

By Paula Doran

Scientists and environmentalists are concerned that chemical contamination leaching into the top of the Murray-Darling Basin system could hurt the Darling river .

New evidence collected by the nation’s key environmental lobby groups suggests that treated coal seam gas water from mining in Queensland and at the top of NSW poses a major water quality problem for the Darling.

The group, which includes the Wilderness Society and Friends of the Earth, says coal seam gas exploration by Santos in the Pilliga Forest near Narrabri is discharging polluted water into the Bohena Creek system, in the far north of the Basin.

Those claims come after an independent scientist was commissioned to test the creek waters by a conglomeration of concerned environmental groups who now claim a loophole in the draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan will allow that pollution to continue.

While Santos has confirmed that water is treated before discharge, the tests show water extracted from the coal seam during mining is responsible for elevated levels of ammonia, methane, carbon dioxide, lithium, cyanide, bromide and boron.   

The results show that ammonia levels alone were three times above drinking water standards.

“These water samples confirm that coal seam gas water, even after treatment, is of such poor quality that it will degrade the rivers and creeks of the Murray-Darling Basin,” said Carmel Flint, spokesman for the Friends of the Earth.

 “High levels of ammonia, methane and carbon dioxide pose a major risk to aquatic life, particularly fish.”

Local lobby group, the Darling River Action Group (DRAG), concurred with that claim.  

Spokesman Barney Stevens said while the results in the Pilliga were perhaps not of great concern in their current level to humans, and would certainly dilute as they travelled through the system, the health of aquatic life was at major risk.

In its proposed Basin Plan, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority intends to allow increases in groundwater extraction for mining whilst at the same time providing a loophole in the form of weak water quality targets which it describes as “aspirational”, according to the environmentalist coalition lobbying to ban coal seam gas mining.

Concerns about the chemical input into the catchment come as large inflows from heavy rain in Queensland makes its way down to the Darling River.

NSW State Water is preparing to release 250 megalitres per day from Lake Cawndilla in preparation for the flows to come.  

It estimates that by December 24, 16,000 megalitres will be discharged, some of which will top up the Darling Anabranch.

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