Horror stories about the degradation of our waterways have been circulating for many months and none more graphically highlights this environmental tragedy than the fish kills in the north west of the state in recent days.
In the last 18 months both the ABC’s 4 Corners and the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO), released material about the issues of irrigation along the Murray-Darling, and fish kills on the Namoi River, the Lachlan River and the Darling River at Menindee.
The NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and WaterNSW are investigating a large fish kill at Menindee in Western NSW and newly independent NSW MP Jeremy Buckingham is visiting the Darling River at Menindee today (10 January 2019) to witness and document the mass fish kills and speak with concerned local community members, including Rob McBride from Tolarno Station.
A video has gone viral on Facebook with more than four million views since Monday – the footage shows Mr McBride and fellow local Dick Arnold pulling 100-year-old cod out of the Darling River following the death of an estimated one million fish.
Labor calls Libs and Nats out
NSW Labor is calling on the Liberals and Nationals to stop their proposal to ‘augment’ the Menindee Lakes which Labor says will see decommissioning of large sections of the lake and will mean further widespread ecological and environmental disasters.
They say fishing on the Darling and Murray rivers is worth millions to the regional NSW economy and has been put at risk because the National Party have demanded that more water be extracted for irrigation in the north of the river.
The NSW Labor Opposition has pledged to abandon the controversial proposal that will see a drastic reduction in the amount of water released into the Lower Darling.
Darling suffers despite warnings
Despite being warned over the last four years that over-extraction of water in the Darling is having hugely detrimental effects on the ecology of this fragile waterway, the Liberals and Nationals have decided to move ahead with widely opposed plans to decommission sections of the Menindee Lakes meaning there will be even less water flow for threatened species of fish.
Labor says the Liberals and Nationals have engineered this mess with the Wentworth to Broken Hill water pipeline providing drinking water to Broken Hill allowing the Government to pursue plans to cut off a huge amount of water for the Lower Darling.
‘It has become painfully clear over the last four years that the only way to save the Darling River is to vote the National Party out of power at the election in March’, said Shadow Minister for Water, Chris Minns.
‘What more evidence to the people of Far Western NSW need that the National Party cannot be trusted with this precious waterway?’
Mr Minns said the Lower Darling River was an important breeding ground for Golden Perch and Murray Cod. ‘The Government must take responsibility for the low flows that have contributed to this disaster,’he said.
Mr Minns also said it should not have taken 1 million dead fish and international headlines decrying the state of the iconic waterway to snap some attention from the National Party. ‘It’s clear nothing will change unless there is a change of Government,’ he said.
Depletion of dissolved oxygen the issue
DPI Senior Fisheries Manager, Anthony Townsend, said fisheries officers had visited the affected area downstream of Menindee today and were investigating the incident.
‘The ongoing drought conditions across western NSW have resulted in fish kills in a number of waterways recently and today our fisheries officers have confirmed a major fish kill event in the Darling River at Menindee affecting hundreds of thousands of fish, including Golden Perch, Murray Cod and Bony Herring,’ he said.
‘This happened after a very hot period, then a sharp cool change hit the Menindee region over the weekend, with large temperature drops experienced.
‘This sudden drop in temperature may have disrupted an existing algal bloom at Menindee, killing the algae and resulting in the depletion of dissolved oxygen.’
Mismanagement of Darling River
Jeremy Buckingham also blamed the NSW Liberal/National Government for the issue. ‘They are responsible for the mismanagement of water from the Darling River, resulting in over extraction and the environmental disaster that is shocking the world today,’ he said earlier today.
‘The NSW Government has overseen a devastating erosion in water enforcement and it has regularly made decisions in the best interests of the big irrigators and donors rather than the benefit of a healthy river or the communities that rely on it.
‘We need a broad ranging Royal Commission to investigate water in NSW so that all the issues and allegations that are out there are thoroughly investigated independently.
The DPI says there is likely to be more of the same ahead.
‘The current low flows and warming temperatures are likely to pose an ongoing threat to native fish throughout the summer,’ says Anthony Townsend.
WaterNSW is continuing to monitor water quality throughout the dams and river systems.