It’s the picturesque stream which winds around the outskirts of Maitland, hemmed in by city on one side and lush farmland on the other.
But farmers along Fishery Creek want answers about their future, after traces of notorious contaminant PFAS was detected in three Maitland waterways last month.
Adding to their frustration is what they say is the lack of producer-specific information from the Environment Protection Authority (EPA).
Michelle Viola, who operates a beef and lucerne farm with husband Michael along the creek at Maitland, said a letterbox drop from the EPA on May 30 failed to answer many of their questions.
Of particular concern, she said, was that they had been cleared to continue to sell meat from their farms, but were advised against eating their own home-slaughtered products because it could expose them to higher levels of the toxic chemicals.
“We can’t eat our own meat, but we can still sell it,” she said.
“I need to be able to sell my product with confidence … without knowing what’s coming down the creek, I can’t guarantee quality control.”
She wants the creek fenced along its entire length and cattle tested for any adverse impact.
Her views are echoed by neighbour and fellow farmer Graham Warby.
He asked why they were only given official notice of the PFAS contamination on May 30, when the spill happened at the Truegain refinery site in March.
“This is future problems for us,” the beef farmer said.
“We’ve farmed at Testers Hollow all our life and we’ve never had to deal with anything like this.”
The letterbox drop was the first official word the farmers have had since the EPA confirmed levels of PFAS as high as 22 times the recommended drinking guideline were found in Stony Creek in late May.
Testing showed PFAS levels in Fishery and Wallis creeks also exceeded drinking guidelines, but not to the same extent as Stony Creek.
It’s a bitter blow for the farmers, who have battled a grim cycle of flood and drought over the past three years. “Farming around here is hard enough. It’s just knock after knock after knock,” Michelle said.
The EPA will now hold drop in sessions at Rutherford on Thursday and Friday where residents will be able to talk face to face with EPA and NSW Health representatives.
However, Maitland MP Jenny Aitchison said it was disappointing that the briefings won’t include Local Land Service representatives to offer producer-specific advice.
Ms Aitchison also took aim at why it took a week for farmers and residents to receive official word from the EPA, when a press release about the high readings was released by environment Minister Gabrielle Upton’s office a week earlier.
A tender for an operator to clean up the Truegain site will close on June 14.