NSW Regional Water Minister Niall Blair, on behalf of the NSW government, has committed to helping the Menindee community and the ecosystem in Far West NSW recover as quickly as possible after the recent fish kill in the Darling River.
Mr Blair met with some locals, Central Darling Shire Council, Wentworth Shire Council and experts from the Department of Primary Industries Fisheries and WaterNSW in Menindee yesterday.
But he did bypass a group of protesters awaiting his arrival.
Mr Blair believed it was one of the largest fish kills ever seen.
“We realise the clean-up from this event is significant and we will provide whatever help we can to the local communities,” he said.
Mr Blair requested that DPI and WaterNSW prepare an urgent report on the fish kill and clean up, which will be publicly available and asked DPI to begin preparing for the recovery of the fish stocks when conditions improve.
“Each year DPI breeds up to one million golden perch and 400,000 Murray cod, which are released into our river systems,” he said.
“Restocking fish will be critical in this area.
“WaterNSW will deliver water to support the feeding, breeding and movement needs of these native fish species when more water is available in the Darling River.”
WaterNSW figures show that only 198 megalitres a day is flowing past Weir 32 at Menindee, while the Menindee Lakes are only 3.1 per cent full.
Mr Blair said WaterNSW was continuing to monitor water quality throughout the dams and river systems as the drought continued across the Murray-Darling Basin.
“We really need significant rain to generate replenishment flows otherwise these impacts will persist and possibly increase throughout summer,” he said.
“You can’t dismiss the impact of drought when in the last six months, we have had 30 gigalitres of water flow in the Northern System, while in an average year we would expect 4000GL.
“The numbers speak for themselves.
“This is a devastating ecological event and we must address the impacts and recovery with facts and evidence rather than political scaremongering.”
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Opposition calls for special inquiry
NSW Opposition Leader Michael Daley is calling for a Special Commission of Inquiry into the ecological catastrophe in the NSW’s Far West, citing Liberal-Nationals’ policy.
“Mature fish that survived decades of droughts could not survive the Liberal-Nationals’ water policy,” he said.
“The Liberals and Nationals have been repeatedly warned by Far West residents, community groups, scientists and Labor that their water policies would cause devastation on the Darling River.
“In 2012, the former Nationals Minister for Primary Industry Katrina Hodgkinson changed the Barwon-Darling water management rules to allow irrigators to extract 32 per cent more water.
“In 2017, an explosive ABC Four Corners investigation reported allegations of industrial scale water theft on the Darling River. This involved senior officials in the NSW Department of Primary Industry and National Party donors.
“The DPI is the lead government agency investigating the current disaster.”
Mr Daley said the Liberal-Nationals’ policy was to decommission the Menindee Lakes System, which would further reduce water flows in the Lower Darling River and destroy fish breeding grounds in the Darling River.
“Labor has committed to abandon this plan to prevent further ecological destruction,” he said.
“The people of NSW have watched for 18 months as water theft scandals, water mismanagement and now ecological disasters have rocked Far West rivers.
“The Labor government I lead will establish a special commission of inquiry in water management on the Darling River System. It will have Royal Commission-like powers.”