The federal government has committed $70 million to improve the health of the Darling River and prevent further mass fish kills.
Two massive fish kills in December and January prompted the government to commission an independent assessment, with the final report released on April 10.
“What we’re doing is giving our water managers the tools to be able to prevent them, to use the best technology and science,” Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud told ABC News.
“To make sure we’re equipped to prevent the event and even the scale of the event.”
The government accepts all 27 recommendations of the report, but Littleproud concedes another mass fish kill is likely.
A much better understanding of climate change by 2026? Seriously? How about applying what we know now? Pathetichttps://t.co/8nxrLcFucW
— Richard Beasley SC (@RichardCBeasley) April 9, 2019
“There’s been over 600 of these events in the last 34 years,” he said.
The funding includes $5 million for cameras to live-stream river flows to the internet, $25 million to subsidise the cost of updating meters in the northern basin and $20 million for research to improve water management.
It also includes $10 million for native fish hatcheries and $5 million for infrastructure, including knocking down dam walls and building fish ladders.
The new Water Minister has used her first few days in the job touring parts of the state hardest hit by drought. @melindapaveyMP took over the portfolio after her predecessor quit following those mass fish kills in the Darling River. #7NEWS pic.twitter.com/2wOG30UQUS
— 7NEWS Sydney (@7NewsSydney) April 7, 2019
The independent assessment was carried out by a panel of distinguished water scientists led by Rob Vertessy.
He says a lack of flow in the river prompted by extreme climate conditions was the primary cause of the mass fish deaths.
“If you get a turnover of those deoxygenated waters, then the fish are done,” Professor Vertessy told ABC radio.
“We can’t have the Darling and the lower Darling reducing to a set of stagnant pools, there must be periodic flushing of it.
“The drought conditions are exceptional in the northern basis and I think they’re the main explanatory variable here.”
The water sharing plan is too flexible and there should be restrictions on when irrigators can take water, he added.
“We’re not saying let’s reduce the amount of water irrigators can take, we’re just saying don’t take it at the very low flow extremes,” he said.
Littleproud says scrapping the basin plan isn’t an option.
“The reality is that it is not a perfect plan, I get that. And my own communities have hurt from it,” he said.
“But I’ve got to be honest, this is the best plan to get and they’ll get a worse plan if we reopen it.”
The Murray Darling Basin Authority has welcomed the push to accelerate the basin plan.
“We are currently working with NSW and Qld to make sure the plans they prepare have an adequate focus on whole-of-system connectivity, protection of low flows and have had sufficient community involvement,” MDBA chief Phillip Glyde said.
“I recognise how important it is for the Australian community to have confidence that the right things are being looked at when it comes to assessing the outcomes the basin plan is achieving.”
By Rebecca Gredley