New Research: Darling River fish kill caused by river mismanagement


New research by the Australia Institute shows that the Darling River fish kill was due to the mismanagement of the Menindee Lakes in southwest New South Wales.

Key findings:

  • The Lakes were drained in 2016-17 at a time when downstream areas did not need water – South Australia was experiencing flooding and all Murray irrigation demand was met.
  • The Lakes were drained by the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), which is directed by the state governments. Claims NSW could not have influenced the MDBA’s actions are false.
  • The water level in the Lakes is not being replenished by regular smaller flows. While large floods still reach Menindee, regular small-medium flows have decreased dramatically.
  • MDBA research highlights and irrigation development in the northern Basin as playing a key role in reducing these smaller, regular flows, along with drought and climate change.

“It is clear what has caused the Darling River fish kill – mismanagement and repeated policy failure,” said Maryanne Slattery, Senior Water Researcher at The Australia Institute.

“To blame the fish kill on the drought is a cop-out, it is because water releases were made from the Lakes when this simply shouldn’t have happened.

“It’s time to stop passing the buck. The Prime Minister blames the drought, the NSW Water Minister blames the Commonwealth, upstream blames downstream, and downstream blames upstream.

“While the MDBA has joined the drought blame band-wagon, their own research shows that water is just not getting to the Lakes outside of major floods. This can’t be explained by climate and is most likely to be extractions for irrigation.”

“What every Australian needs to understand is that this is an ecological catastrophe created by the governments implementing the Murray Darling Basin Plan.” said Rob McBride, sheep grazier near Menindee who featured in the fish death video now viewed over 5 million times. 

”This confirms what our Barkandji people and others living along the Baaka/Darling river have long known: we are being made to pay the price for over-allocation of water upstream,” said Badger Bates, local Barkandji elder.

“What’s worse is that on top of the impact on the Menindee and the Lower Darling itself, the mismanagement of the Menindee lakes system impacts the water availability for growers in the NSW Murray, left with no water to grow this year’s crop,” said Ms Slattery.

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