Barwon-Darling River to get $70m to reduce risk of more fish kills


Over three events during summer, an estimated one million fish died in the Darling River in the far west of NSW.

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About $5 million will go to installing cameras so the public can view river flows live to boost transparency, and $10 million will fund restocking rivers and lakes with native fish species to spur recovery.

“This is a $70 million-plus response which goes to research, connectivity and compliance. We’ve listened to the scientists,” Mr Littleproud said.

The Minister will also support all 27 recommendations in the Vertessy report, including modifying water access arrangements under the Barwon-Darling Water Sharing Plan to protect low flows.

Within a year, the report recommends the NSW government and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority jointly assess which parts of the Darling Basin are most at risk of future fish death events to help develop future early-warning systems and emergency response plans.

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NSW should also begin a range of reviews, such as re-evaluating the Menindee Lakes operating procedures and its water-saving project. The latter has been controversial, with NSW Labor supporting its cancellation.

All basin governments should ensure native fish management and recovery plans are adequately resourced and involve “authentic collaboration with government water scientists, academics and consultants, local communities and Aboriginal stakeholders”, the Vertessy report recommended.

A “much better understanding of how climate change threatens Basin water availability and aquatic ecosystems must be obtained ahead of the 2026 Basin Plan review”,  the report added.

The Herald has contacted the NSW government for comment.

The drought, which increased the likelihood of fish kills because of the lack of river flows, shows little sign of breaking despite recent good falls in eastern NSW, the NSW government said on Tuesday.

Some 99.5 per cent of the state continues to experience drought conditions, new Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall said in a statement.

According to the bureau’s report, the past 24 months have seen the largest rainfall deficiencies for the Murray-Darling Basin since the 1901-1903 and 1918-1920 periods.

“These impacts have been exacerbated by record high temperatures, including Australia’s hottest summer on record in 2018–19,” the bureau said. “The extended nature and timing of the dry conditions means that natural resource management, agriculture, water resources, and emergency services organisations have all been significantly impacted.”

Peter Hannam writes on environment issues for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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