Coast waterway declared 10 times more polluted than Sydney

SAMPLES taken from a Sunshine Coast creek show the water quality is ten times worse than central Sydney - and the council is pointing the finger at a local MP.

Stormwater samples entering Eenie Creek have levels of hydrocarbons 10 times higher than central Sydney.

Noosa councillors have blamed the high hydrocarbon rates on the former Newman Government.

A fired-up Cr Brian Stockwell said the former government's green tape reduction, introduced in 2013 by Glass House MP and former Environment Minister Andrew Powell, which did away with regular water testing, was to blame for the sorry state of the creek's stormwater readings, rather than operators from an industrial estate.

Andrew Powell speaks on Queensland Productivity Commission draft report into energy prices. Photo Patrick Woods / Sunshine Coast Daily
Glass House MP and former Newman government Environment Minister Andrew Powell. Patrick Woods

At the time, Mr Powell said the reduction slashed Environmentally Relevant Activities (ERA) licences from 13,000 businesses to about 4000, but would not lower environmental standards or protections.

"Businesses will still have to comply with the Environmental Protection Act and the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection will have compliance officers out on the ground to ensure (the businesses) meet their legal obligations," he said at the time.

Yesterday, Mr Powell said he stood by the change, which he said had been supported by both the LNP and the ALP.

"I think businesses have benefitted and there has been minimal to zero impact on the environment," he said. "This is the first instance I've heard of anywhere where's there's flow-on effects of that nature.

"Not knowing the industrial site well, I'd want to know what other companies or entities are working there.

"The reason the green tape reduction was applied to low-risk environmental businesses like workshops, like batching plants is that the environmental risks are well known, are easily mitigated or prevented."

Mr Powell said it was therefore easy to confirm whether they (environmental protections) were being done or not.

"Both sides of politics saw that as a sensible green tape reduction. It allowed the state officers in particular to concentrate on those industries that have the potential to highest risk to the environment," he said

He said these officers could then focus on the conditioning of these businesses and monitoring them "so they are not doing any harm to the environment".

"If there are examples, it's worth sharing them with the Department of Environment and Heritage," he said.

"There is a pollution hotline and members of the public or councils should be availing themselves of that if they've got instances of pollution."

However, Cr Stockwell suggested the change put an unrealistic expectation on some businesses.

"They're mechanics not water quality engineers," he said. "My criticism, and it's vehement, is of the stupidity of the Newman Government in their green tape reduction.

He said Queensland was now not only clearing more trees than Brazil, "we're now killing off our waterways as a result of the things taken out of the (Environment Protection) Act".

I've had recent reports from a local freshwater ecologist who's doing a lot of his own time going into Eenie Ck and the Wallum," the councillor said.

"He said it's like a curtain that comes down at the beginning of the industrial-fed outlets in terms of biodiversity loss."

"Simple things like emissions from lime-based products like concrete - a small emission will create a huge impact."

Cr Joe Jurisevic said the the changes made the process reactive.

"The problem is once you react to the problem, it's already there, it's already in the environment and the damage has been done. Once the damage is done, it's too bloody late. You can fine people all your like after the event."

"The report indicates hydrocarbons and that are getting down there as well as other pollutants. It is a concern and there's no measure upstream to prevent these things from flowing into our pristine waterways."

Council environmental health manager Wayne Schafer said he was not surprised by the testing results, as councillors vote on a new local law to make industries shire-wide comply with environmental conditions by way of annual risk-based testing of premises.

"I remember going to Eenie Ck before the Environmental Protection Act had licensed ERAs and walking through the creek in what was virtually oil saturated with mud," he said.

Mr Schafer said things improved dramatically after ERAs were introduced, but "now we don't inspect these properties, we've gone back to what it was before".

"There is a good news story in this and that is industry is on side with what we're trying to do. There wouldn't be many local governments where industry have come out and said 'please inspect us and please tell us where we're going wrong and we'll fix it'."

Cr Jurisevic said this positive attitude to the council's concerns was a credit to these businesses.

He noted the report also included other run-off into Lake Weyba and the Cooroy industrial area, so all these areas would be looked at equally in regard to new testing measures.