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BRISBANE, Jan 30 AAP

January 30 2013, 12:29AM

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke should stop water from coal mines being released into Queensland's flooded waterways, environmentalists say.

Four BHP Mitsubishi Alliance mines in the Fitzroy River basin were last week allowed to carry out controlled releases of water in a pilot program announced by the state government last November.

But the Lock the Gate Alliance says at least 20 coal mines have released contaminated wastewater directly into rivers in Queensland since the floods began last week.

Alliance spokeswoman Ellie Smith said in some cases untreated water had been discharged directly from pollution ponds.

"The federal government has a responsibility to ensure the Great Barrier Reef and other matters of national environmental significance are protected," she said in a statement.

"Tony Burke can and should step in to stop this abhorrent practice."

"With the international spotlight on Australia's custodianship of the reef this week and more mine water accumulated in central Queensland coal mines, now is the time for the federal member for Capricornia, Kirsten Livermore and Environment Minister Tony Burke to step in to ensure central Queensland's rivers are no longer used as drains for untreated mine water".

Queensland Environment Minister Andrew Powell last week said the releases were a continuation of similar practices that had occurred under previous governments.

He said the pilot program was being monitored and regulated, with the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection keeping a close watch on discharges from other coal mines and monitoring the cumulative impact on the river.

"A mine's ability to release water has always been dependent on water flows and whether they are able to meet strict environmental and water quality standards," he said.