$70m for river

By Country News

The Federal Government has committed $70million 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,’’ Federal Water Minister David Littleproud said.

‘‘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 Mr Littleproud concedes another mass fish kill is likely.

‘‘There’s been over 600 of these events in the last 34 years,’’ Mr Littleproud said.

The funding includes $5million for cameras to live-stream river flows to the internet, $25million to subsidise the cost of updating meters in the northern basin and $20million for research to improve water management.

It also includes $10million for native fish hatcheries and $5million for infrastructure, including knocking down dam walls and building fish ladders.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority has welcomed the push to accelerate the basin plan.

‘‘We are currently working with NSW and Queensland 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.’’

The independent assessment was carried out by a panel of distinguished water scientists led by Professor Rob Vertessy.

Prof Vertessy said 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 de-oxygenated waters, then the fish are done,’’ he said.

‘‘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 basin and I think they’re the main explanatory variable here.’’

The water sharing plan was too flexible and there should be restrictions on when irrigators could take water, he said.

‘‘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,’’ Prof Vertessy said.

Mr Littleproud said scrapping the basin plan was not 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 re-open it.’’