According to an Australian Associated Press report on Friday, most of the 437 people of the town had been suffering from the “runs” since Ensham’s namesake coal mine discharged water into the Nogoa River after it was flooded last year.
While the report has caused headaches for Ensham management, mid last week the Central Highlands Regional Council said there was a mechanical failure at the Blackwater Water Treatment Plant, which allowed partially untreated raw water to enter the water supply.
On Friday the council said further analysis of the Bluff water supply indicated the presence of E. coli.
Yesterday the council said the presence had been reduced, but still advised residents to boil all their drinking water until the situation improves.
Ensham’s temporary discharge of water into the river after recent heavy rain flowed 300-500 megalitres into the mine, which is still storing captured water from the giant January 2008 floods that swept the region coincided with the E. Coli confirmation by the council.
“The last week has seen high levels of localised rainfall in the vicinity of the Ensham mine with total falls of more than 120 millimetres since 27 December 2008,” Ensham said.
Ensham chief executive Peter Westerhuis added: “We have no onsite capacity available to store this volume of rainwater because 9000 megalitres of floodwater remains on the minesite from the January 2008 floods after we ceased pumping in September 2008.”
Ensham said the water quality downstream stayed within the approval conditions of Ensham’s Environmental Authority through the significant dilution provided by the current natural flows into the Nogoa River. The mine had discharged less than 50ML in the three days from January 3 compared to the 42,000ML of rainwater flow in the Nogoa and Comet rivers in the same period.
Westerhuis noted the ill timing of the company’s water discharges in the wake of recent media allegations about the mine causing a diarrhoea outbreak in Bluff.
“What has happened in Bluff is bad news and I feel sorry for the folk to have to suffer this," Westerhuis said.
“Everybody knew we were flooded last year and there was an understandable reaction. And here we are discharging again which is going to get an emotional response from some people.
“But to attribute this Bluff E. coli outbreak to Ensham is incorrect. It is not related and we have since been informed of a malfunction at the water treatment plant."
Rural lobby group Agforce has also been vocal in the media in criticising Ensham’s water discharge activity.
Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche has since countered an Agforce claim that mining companies are treated differently from most farmers in the Fitzroy River Basin.
“Unlike the vast majority of farming enterprises, mining companies and certain other businesses are regulated by law with respect to discharges they make into the environment,” Roche said.
“In the case of Ensham Resources, had water storage overflows into the Nogoa River been attributed to the Ensham-owned Nogoa Pastoral Company instead of the mine, no reporting or monitoring would have been required.
“Like all QRC members, Ensham takes its environmental responsibilities seriously and is transparent in its dealings with all relevant authorities and local communities.
“Unfortunately, there is no regulatory control over misinformation finding its way into the media.”
Ensham has had little luck with the rain as its 3000-tonne dragline was trapped in floodwater for several months last year, causing considerable damage.
International Longwall News understands the mine has returned to about 80% production and the previously water logged dragline has been refurbished and gone back into operation in the last two weeks.