Angry local residents have crashed a NSW government minister’s media conference after sections of the Darling River in NSW’s far west were again blanketed with millions of dead fish, the third mass death in the area in two months.
Officials found hundreds of thousands of dead fish in the Menindee weir pool and neighbouring waterways on Monday.
They included bony herring, golden perch and carp.
NSW Regional Water Minister Niall Blair visited the region on Tuesday to see the disaster for himself. He was upbraided by angry locals, who shouted over each other after crashing his media conference.
“The lakes were full!” one yelled, before another shouted: “Youse let it go … What are you going to do about the cotton?” according to the ABC.
People in the outback town, an hour west of Broken Hill, blame the environmental crisis on water use by cotton irrigators, as well as the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s decision to empty the Menindee Lakes in 2014 and 2017.
Cotton Australia has rejected this, saying all major cotton growing valleys in north-west NSW have no water allocated to them this harvest season.
— Rex Patrick (@Senator_Patrick) January 28, 2019
Mr Blair warned conditions in the Darling River could deteriorate further given the significant number of fish seen gasping for air.
He told the ABC his government was out of options after the “Band-Aid solution” of installing aerators along the river had failed to keep fish alive.
“If there was something else that could be done we would have done it,” he said.
“It’s not a case of not being able to spend money on something. There just isn’t any other alternative that anyone has offered up.”
Menindee resident Graeme McCrabb made the discovery of the latest mass death on Tuesday morning, finding large parts of the river completely covered in small, floating dead fish. He estimated millions have died.
“I’m sitting in a spot here and there are hundreds of thousands within 100 or 200 metres,” he said.
“You can smell the dead fish. It’ll get worse throughout the day. It’s just a waste. An absolute waste.”
Australia: Darling river above the weir | white flashes = dead fish | 📹 Menindee resident Graeme McCrabb | Jan 28 2019 pic.twitter.com/ZIs8S4YObE
— redball (@redball2) January 29, 2019
Mr McCrabb says poor management is to blame given the Menindee lakes were drained in 2017 when water levels were high.
Broken Hill man Travis Casey posted a video on Monday from a boat driving past hundreds of dead fish.
“Words don’t really do it justice,” he states in the video.
It’s not bubbles or foam or algae, it’s fish. Twenty-odd river kilometres of it.”
The NSW Department of Primary Industries says the deaths are the result of critically-low levels of dissolved oxygen – likely linked to the mixing of weir pool water following a drop in temperatures in recent days.
The conditions are similar to that when an estimated one million fish were killed in the river three weeks ago.
The discovery of the dead fish came as South Australia’s royal commission into the management of the Murray-Darling Basin presented its final report to the state government on Tuesday.
Commissioner Bret Walker SC spent almost a year looking into the operation and effectiveness of the basin plan. His inquiry was sparked by widespread reports of mismanagement and water theft upstream.
Acting Premier Vickie Chapman said the government would release the report later this week.
Mr Walker has indicated his report will include “adverse assessments of many governmental decisions and processes”.
“The national implications of the report’s subject matter are also a reason for the report to be made available for consideration and criticism without delay,” he said previously.
In his final submissions in October, counsel assisting the inquiry, Richard Beasley, said the Murray had been plagued by maladministration and the implementation of the basin plan continued to have a negative impact on the environment and the economies of the basin states.
“But the state that will suffer the most is the state at the end of the system – South Australia,” he said.
The commission was also told that the 450 gigalitres of extra environmental flows, secured largely through SA’s lobbying, was “highly unlikely to ever eventuate”.