What happens when the 'last resort' on the Darling River dries out?

Postado Janeiro 10, 2019

"We're looking at the operating rules around the Menindee Lakes and what we can do".

In a video that has been viewed almost 4 million times, Menindee resident Dick Arnold and rancher Rob McBride say the fish kills are "a manmade disaster".

Niall Blair, NSW's fisheries and regional water minister, blamed the deaths on drought. "You can not dismiss the fact there is a drought and a lack of water". The fish kill in the Darling River that we have witnessed, that Dick and Rob have put on social media and is going viral is an absolute catastrophe. The latest fish die-off, along with other signs of wildlife and human populations hard hit by drought and heat, add to the likelihood that water will feature in this year's coming federal and NSW state elections.

Fish kills have been caused by a Low Dissolved Oxygen event associated with the rapid die off of an algal bloom along this section of the river.

"The scale of this disaster is extraordinary and unprecedented", the opposition leader said in a statement.

"This is the result of draining the Menindee Lakes twice in four years, killing the system", McBride, whose ranch is about 25 miles south of Menindee, says in the video. "We can not be indifferent to the ecological impact and the effect on local residents who live along the river".

Mr Blair said he had requested that Department of Primary Industries and WaterNSW prepare an urgent report on the fish kill and clean up. Some of them were up to 100 years old, the men said.

Ex-Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham has made himself an instant meme after almost spewing while holding a dead fish in a video that was meant to highlight the National Party's water policies.

Michael Murray, general manager of Cotton Australia, sought to counter criticism of irrigators and his industry for the plight at Menindee, say the state's cotton output would halve this year.

Buckingham was trying to highlight the recent death of around a million fish in the Darling River, and was trying to point blame at the Nationals for their handling of water policies.

Maryanne Slattery, senior water researcher at the Australia Institute and a former environmental policy official with the Murray Darling Basin Authority, said it was "heartening" to learn of Labor's plan for an inquiry. "Sadly, it is entirely predictable for those of us that have been warning about the raft of problems plaguing the implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan".

"It should be inconceivable that a $13 billion water reform developed in response to drought has failed at its first drought", she said.

Peter Hannam writes on environment issues for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.