Recovery for the Burnett River will be a slow process following devastating flooding from ex-cyclone Oswald and further flooding occurring from the latest weather system.
Mr Andrew Connor, Executive Director of the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection said that sources of water contamination from these events are widespread.
“Our immediate priority is to work with the Bundaberg District Disaster Management Group to identify and remove potentially harmful debris that poses a risk to water quality in the Burnett River”.
ABC News recently reported that Health authorities are monitoring bacteria levels in Bundaberg’s Burnett River as Council was forced to pump untreated effluent from a flood-damaged sewage plant into waterways.
The focus remains around the Bundaberg region, although the Burnett River has a wider catchment area with an ecosystem devastatingly impacted from these flood events.
“Small landfills in the Burnett Catchment were inundated and sewage treatment facilities across the region were either damaged, suffered power failures or were simply overloaded by the volume of water in the system” Mr Connor said.
Paradise Dam on the Burnett River has encountered repeated controversy about its impact on the environment and endangered species such as the Australian Lung Fish (Neoceratodus forsteri).
Senator Larissa Waters, Greens environment spokesperson posed a series of questions about the Burnett River to Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities in parliament on 16 November 2012 that remain unanswered.
Senator Waters raised the question as a major concern that large numbers of lungfish are being killed or severely injured on the stepped spillway of the dam when attempting to move downstream during flood events.
Senator Waters was contacted regarding the most recent flood events but has not issued any further comments.
The longer term impact of multiple flood events in the Burnett River as well as the Paradise Dam’s controversial stepped spillway may have long reaching effects on fish populations and the endangered Australian Lungfish.
SunWater recently published two reports – Paradise Dam Upstream Fishway Monitoring Final Report June 2011 and Paradise Dam Downstream Fishway Monitoring Program Final v.1.1 Report February 2012.
The Environment and Communications References Committee will present a report on the protection of Australia’s threatened species and ecological communities on 15th May 2013 in parliament.
“Sources of water contamination in flood event are widespread and rural industries have been heavily impacted, losing livestock and equipment in flood waters” Mr Connor said.
“We are assisting with implementation of waste management strategies to deal with flood waste requiring disposal, recovery strategies for sewage treatment plants and networks, and evaluating damage caused to Heritage places”.
Concerns about the damage done to the Burnett River ecosystem and environment were raised with the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.
Mr Connor responded that they were “working to understand the extent of damage to Queensland’s natural and cultural assets and has begun to implement actions to assist the path to restoration”.
Members of the public can report observed pollution in the Burnett River to the Department on 1300 130 372.