Too much water taken by irrigators: Report
Tuesday, 19th February, 2019
By Emily McInerney
Scientists have found that drought and the over-extraction of water by irrigators led to the death of millions of fish in the Darling River.
An expert panel yesterday presented its report into three major fish kills near Menindee in December and January following a request from the federal Labor Party.
It said the deaths were unusual in the combination of their severity, impact on large, older Murray cod and association with low flows.
The report said while the drought was severe, it wasn’t unprecedented. “More significantly”, it noted, was the excess upstream diversion of water for irrigation” and “prior releases of water from Menindee Lakes contributed to lack of local reserves.”
The independent panel - convened by the Australian Academy of Science at the request of federal Labor - also found that engagement with local residents had been “cursory, at best”, resulting in insufficient use of their knowledge about how the system is best managed.
It has called for urgent action - within six months - to ensure there is sufficient flow in the Darling River to prevent stratification and blue-green algal blooms.
The scientists have also recommended the establishment of a Menindee Lakes restoration project to determine sustainable management and operation of the lakes system.
State Labor candidate for Barwon, Darriea Turley, said the report adds weight to the campaign to save the Darling River.
“It’s a scientific report made by a panel of scientists,” said Ms Turley.
“Now we can start to paint the way for the future.
“The big issue that they have highlighted is the over-extraction of water.
“This says to the National Party to go and think about this.
“They haven’t thought about the river or the Barwon people.
“If they had these reports when they made changes to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and the Northern Basin amendments, would they have still made the same decisions?”
Independent MP Jeremy Buckingham backed the recommendations of the Australia Academy of Sciences.
Mr Buckingham said any reconfiguration of the Menindee Lakes must put nature first and return small to medium flows down the Darling as a first step.
“The Australian Academy of Sciences is absolutely correct in saying that the Menindee Lakes must be viewed as an important environmental asset and its configuration and the water management regime must retain sufficient water to achieve these environmental goals,” he said.
“Various governments have viewed the water in Menindee Lakes as ‘politically easy’ to empty and send down the river, but the environmental cost of these decision have now been shown with the collapse of the Lower Darling.
“The scientists have confirmed that water mismanagement, coupled with the drought, is the major cause of the ecological catastrophe in the lower Darling.”
Shooters, Fishers and Farmers candidate for Barwon, Roy Butler, said the report was the latest in a long line of evidence showing the mismanagement of the system.
Mr Butler said he was disappointed with the lack of response from the NSW Government on the water crisis.
“They’ve offered no practical assistance up and down the electorate,” he said.
“Even my home town is on Level 6 water restrictions.
“The locals have been stepping up to help provide clean water.
“It’s time the State Government stepped up to do the right thing.”
NSW Minister for Regional Water, Niall Blair, said the reports of over-extraction were sensationalising the issue.
“Whilst we have only just received the report and have not had a chance to properly analyse its findings there appears to be some contradictions,” Mr Blair said.
“On the one hand, it debates the environmental outcomes that could be achieved by releasing the available water down the Darling, citing water quality concerns and concerns around the amount of water, yet then recommends that this water is released within six months, regardless of whether rainfall has occurred in the Northern catchment.
“There are also findings that we directly disagree with, namely that the cap on buybacks should be lifted as well as the assertion that the Northern Basin review should be repealed.
“This report does not identify when or how this so called over-extraction occurred to justify its sensational headline.”