Monday 24 March 2008

Will Val Schier poison Cairns?

Contributing CairnsBlog writer Syd Walker swims in the Barron River most days, and he ponders the health of the river.

Walker has campaigned before and during the recent election for comprehensive monitoring of the Barron River water quality.

The apparent lack of hard data about pesticide levels in the Barron is at the centre of his concern

Why would Val Schier, the newly elected Mayor of new Cairns Regional Council, with a mandate for greener and more humane policies, risk the health of the Cairns population by giving them potentially toxic water to drink?

I hope she won’t, and that’s good news for Kuranda.

It would mean that at long last, someone in government may test the Barron River and its biota for pesticides and other toxic chemicals - and make the data public.

I’ll explain. On John McKenzie's 846 AM talkback radio last week, a few days after her election, the new Mayor was asked a question about expanding Cairns’ water supply.

In her reply, Val Schier enthused about proposals to divert some of the Barron River flow - presumably from the lower Barron - for use in Cairns.

Barron River Land Use, GBRMPA:I wonder if she has ever inquired what is poured into the Barron catchment, year in, year out, by the tablelands farming community? I wonder if she has any handle on rumours of toxic leaching from Mareeba landfills?

I wonder if Val Schier - like Friends of the Earth Kuranda - has ever asked State Government representatives detailed questions about Barron River water quality. Friends of Earth Kuranda was fobbed off with evasive waffle. How did she go?

Without real data on this, Mayor Schier is very unwise to pledge Barron water to her thirsty residents.

On the other hand, with real data, users of the lower catchment can apply - if necessary - real pressure on the upper and especially the middle catchment river ‘users’ to clean up their act.

Will it be necessary to detoxify the Barron by implementing significantly different agricultural, waste management and sewerage practices upstream of Kuranda?

Without any real data on the pesticide or heavy metal content of Barron river water, who on earth knows?

Let’s hope Val Schier will find out - and make the data public, ASAP.

Of course, if the plan is to filter out all nasties before they enter the water supply of Cairns, the public needs real information about that too.

Perhaps Cairns can secure a safely filtered town water supply from the much-abused Barron? Apparently Kuranda does so at present - although who can be sure about that?

Even so, questions about water quality will persist until we get honest and comprehensive answers. Is biological concentration occurring? If so, are fish in the middle Barron safe to eat? They seem to be a significant part of the local diet, especially for Aboriginal people in the Myola valley.

Are we still poisoning the indigenous people of this land? And what about the Coral Sea and the World Heritage Great Barrier Reef - the ultimate destination for any persistent toxins in the Barron?

Over to you, Val. You should now have ready access to information the State Government doesn’t seem keen to obtain or release.

Do us all a favour - coast dwellers and Tablelanders both.

Let’s have the facts!


Anonymous said...

If "Loser" Syd and the "Friends of Earth Kuranda" want "the facts", why don't they arrange for their own water quality tests? I'm sure there are degree candidates at universities around Australia that would jump on a chance to do this kind of testing.

Or the "Friends of Earth Kuranda" can cobble together a couple hundred bucks (the cost of a full-spectrum gas chromatograph water test) and get their own "facts".

I'm always amazed at the lack of initiative shown by so many in this community. Perhaps the core of the reasoning behind Syd's being roundly rejected at the polls.

Anonymous said...

What a waste of space this bit of "journalism" is.

You have absolutely no facts to back up anything.

- 'potentially' toxic water
- on 'rumours' of toxic leaching
- 'if necessary' - real pressure
- 'Will it be necessary' to detoxify
- 'Apparently' Kuranda does

"Without any real data on the pesticide or heavy metal content of Barron river water, WHO ON EARTH KNOWS?"

Classic Syd!

Anonymous said...

You "Dills" !!

Isn't that the point.. we don't know.. therefore testing should occur before the Barron's water is used for human Consumption?

Anonymous said...

Hey Brian,

The Barron River currently provides water for Mareeba and Kuranda townships. In addition to this, it also provides water for numerous people along its length.

Are you so naive to believe that these town water supplies are not tested?

Anonymous said...

No I'm not naive mr/mrs no name.

All I said is there has always been questions to form sufficient basis for pesticide testing.

God help us, we even did this to a creek here in Kewarra some years ago

Anonymous said...

I can assure the first poster, who seems to have taken my unfortunate election loss to heart, that the tests required to ascertain whether the Barron contains toxic substances such as pesticides and heavy metals cost more than $200. At least, that's what the scientists i've spoken with tell me. If he/she has better information about this, perhaps he/she could share it, in detail.

The second anonymous poster complained about 'facts', or the lack thereof. Ironic, really, because that's my complaint.

Brian in Kewarra noticed this - thanks Brian!

Now comes another anonymous poster anxious to share the information that town water supplies for Mareeba and Kuranda are tested.

Indeed they are - but what testing is done for pesticides? (References please)

It may be that the filtering processes used result in a safe water town supply for Kuranda and other users of the Barron. By extension, the same may also apply to Cairns in the future if the Barron becomes part of its town water supply.

I have never claimed otherwise (but I've never seen proof either way, for that matter).

My greatest concern has always been biological concentration (are Barron fish safe to eat?) and the ultimate fate of a potentially toxic brew of river water when it enters the Coral Sea.

Information about this is scanty, but there are some references, publicly available on the web, that give me cause for concern.

My concerns might be relieved by cogent, well-documented responses, but hostile anonymous rants have the oppositive effect. It makes me wonder what water supply these folk have been using?

Here's a little further reading for the inquisitive:

Pesticides Still Pouring into Reef Waters (Sydney Morning Herald, August 13th 2007)

GBRMPA Monitoring Summary (of data collected between 2004-6

GBRMPA Catchment Statistics for the Barron (they seem rather out of date but have interesting estimates for atrazine and other toxic chemicals).

There's also my earlier attempt to make sense of the story during the election campaign - see State of the Barron.

Anonymous said...

This ABC article from last year is worth reading carefully.

It's an example of a report of a carefully expressed concern, coupled with a rhetorical response devoid of serious intellectual content.

I tried the same thing once when caught by cops in central Cairns with my dog's head hanging out of the driver's window, while driving.

The technique worked then.

The irate policeman kept complaining it was against the law for the dog to be looking out of my window. I kept saying what a nice dog he was.

In the end, the cop gave up.


DDT water pollution a distraction from new herbicides: scientist
Posted Wed Aug 15, 2007 7:48am AEST

A senior tropical freshwater researcher says concerns about DDT in Queensland rivers is just a distraction from the real problem.

A recent study by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has found banned chemicals in seven out of 10 Queensland river systems, with traces of DDT showing up in mud crabs.

Senior freshwater research scientist John Brodie says the DDT is just a residual from old farming practices and can be detected almost anywhere - the real issue is the new herbicides being found in rivers.

Mr Brodie says modern herbicides pose a direct threat to seagrass, mangroves and coral.

"This sort of herbicide-pesticide issue is really fairly new, again we've only really started to realise about in the last seven years or so that this is really an issue again, I guess we thought earlier in the 1990s that it had all gone away when we banned things like DDT," he said.

Canegrowers' general manager Ian Ballantyne says sensational media reports on traces of DDT in mud crabs fail to acknowledge the good work farmers have done to improve farming practices.

Mr Ballantyne says the small traces of chemicals that have been found are mostly the result of past practices and he disagrees modern herbicides are causing further problems.

"There is human habitation on the coast. There is commercial activity and in every case people want to be here in 100 years time," he said.

"There is not a single farmer who doesn't want to do the right thing and isn't striving to do so and I guess the sorts of commentary you get from scientists whose life depends very much on the research dollar tend to be quite unhelpful in all respects."

Anonymous said...

It seems bleedin' obvious that any new water supply project would start with a thorough analysis of the water itself. EPA and other laws require that the quality of drinking water is monitored.

Anyone who thinks otherwise should go get a bucket of Barron River water and soak their head in it.

Anonymous said...

Now regardless of toxic leeching, metal content or waste in the Barron - not to mention what the fish do in there.. I'd drink the water - I've drunk worse.

BUT..There is no way in hell I'll be drinking from any river that Syd Walker swims in!

Anonymous said...

Hey Syd. Buy a water tank. It will be full of pure water in two days with the rain you get up there.
If there is a remote possibility that we divert some of the water out of the Barron, we will leave the water testing to the health Department. Otherwise there is a constant flow of crystal clear water coming off the mountains for most of the year. Send someone over to collect that.

Anonymous said...

Nice try, Syd,

You're welcome to pose your "questions" to your heart's content - god knows you love to hear the sound of your own voice.

But you've called this story "Will Val Schier poison Cairns?" only to sensationalize, and to attack an as-yet unsworn mayor-elect.

You're not fooling anyone with your "questions", Syd. They are "questions" filled with vitriol and hate.

You LOST Syd. Your VIEWPOINT was rejected by the public. My dog could get 15% of the vote in Kuranda.

Anonymous said...

There's an old saying that 5% of the people think, 10% think they think and the rest would rather die than think.

I've always believed it was a rather unfair jibe at majority opinion.

However, the anonymous posters who have littered this article with their know-all responses seem determined to prove the old saying right.

Anonymous said...

Here's another article, this time from the Melbourne Age, that should give reef lovers pause for thought:

Barrier Reef faces pesticide threat

Incidentally, odd we have to go to Sydney or Melbourne for serious newspaper coverage of a major threats to the reef.

I thought Cairns had its own rag?