Concern raised about cane farm sediment run-off into Queensland creeks
The Queensland Government is investigating concerns raised by environmental groups that sediment run-off from more than 2,000 hectares of cane farming land in Clairview, south of Mackay, is potentially polluting waterways leading to the Great Barrier Reef.
The WWF Australia used a drone to capture vision of Cattle Creek after heavy September rain and said it showed the laws protecting the reef from run-off were not strong enough.
The organisation said local residents and environmental groups began noticing large amounts of run-off sediment in Cattle Creek, Middle Creek and Clairview Creek earlier this year.
WWF Australia reef and water senior manager Sean Hoobin said the potential pollution was coming from agricultural development activity taking place in the area by a number of companies.
“It used to be quite pristine — it was just grazing land — whereas now there’s intensive agricultural development going on,” Mr Hoobin said.
“There’s tree clearing, there’s the turning up of land, and there isn’t sufficient sediment and erosion control measures in place.”
One of the companies with land in the area, Racecourse Projects, owns more than 5,000 hectares of cane land in Queensland and was given Bonsucro accreditation — status for sustainable sugarcane production — in 2017.
Mud in creek near cane farm at Clairview in central Queensland in September 2018. (Supplied: Mackay Conservation Group)
Patricia Julien, a former member of the Mackay Conservation Group, obtained water quality samples from Cattle Creek, Clairview Creek and a cane farm drain 24 hours after a large rainfall event in September, which were analysed at the Mackay Council water-testing lab.
“The results show sediment levels were 1.76 times greater than the recommended levels in the Queensland Water Quality guidelines for the northern Styx River Basin area during a flow event, so that’s quite significant,” Ms Julien said.
“We also sampled run-off coming from a cane drain north of Cattle Creek and the fertiliser or dissolved inorganic nitrogen levels were three times what we would have expected in the creek and nine times the levels for the run-off from the cane drain.”
Claim creeks have changed since land clearing
Clairview resident Len Mondon, who lives near Cattle Creek, said he had noticed a big change to the nearby creeks after Racecourse Projects began clearing land and removing vegetation in preparation for cane planting earlier this year.
“The first time I saw the creeks change was in March this year when we got eight inches of rain over two nights, and the water dropped from four or five feet deep to about 300 millimetres and it was filled with mud,” he said.
“I’ve been coming up and down the Bruce Highway here for 25 years and there’s always been cattle properties on either side of a nearby causeway and heavy rain has never impacted it like this, not since the [Racecourse Projects] cane farm project started.”
Mr Mondon said he was worried about the potential impacts to marine life in surrounding waterways and in the Great Barrier Reef.
“To the north of the mouth of the Clairview Creek is a massive dugong reserve, a little bit off that reserve is Avoid Island, which is a turtle rookery, and you’ve got the Great Barrier Reef, so all this run-off is flowing directly into those,” Mr Mondon said.
The Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy said in a statement Racecourse Projects had been cooperating to ensure it met all development approval requirements.
The department has asked the company to further strengthen erosion and sediment controls by October 31, as part of its sediment management plan.
Racecourse Projects has declined to comment.
Reef laws need strengthening
Mr Hoobin said the potential sediment issues in Clairview showed the need for reef pollution regulations to be strengthened in Queensland.
“The Queensland Government needs to step in and stop this type of pollution, so does the Australian Government,” Mr Hoobin said.
“It just isn’t good enough when they spend hundreds of millions dollars to cut pollution and improve reef water quality but they allow this sort of stuff to go on.”
In a statement, a Department of Environment and Science spokesperson said the Queensland Government was proposing to broaden and enhance the existing Reef protection regulations to apply to all 35 catchments in the six Reef regions, which included the Clairview area.
It said the regulations would eliminate outdated practices and drive improved land management practices to reduce pollutant run-off.