The NSW Irrigators’ Council (NSWIC) is calling for urgent action on degradation drivers after the NSW Chief scientist warned that water quality, not water volume, was the root cause of the decline in the Darling River system and consequent fish deaths.
In his report on the Menindee fish deaths in March, Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte states “water policy and operations focus largely on water volume, not water quality. This failure in policy implementation is the root cause of the decline in the river ecosystem and the consequent fish deaths.”
The Chief Scientist recommended immediate measures to provide fish passage and address carp biomass within the next 12 months.
NSWIC CEO Claire Miller said the findings go to what NSWIC has been saying for some time, that just buying more water from farmers will not give the environment what it desperately needs now.
“But instead, we have the Federal Government now preparing to pour billions more dollars into unnecessary buybacks from farmers,” Ms Miller said.
“It will not even begin to look at complementary measures to fix degradation drivers like carp and cold water pollution until after 2026, after it has drained its Basin Plan budget on buybacks.
“These drivers include invasive species like carp, habitat deterioration, obstructions to fish migration, absence of fish screens on pumps, and contamination from cold water. Many scientists are advocating for a refocus on these drivers if the Basin Plan’s desired ecological advantages are to be realised.
“The Government must prioritise the full range of measures necessary to deliver environmental outcomes now, not years in the future.
The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water’s (DCEEW) What We Heard: Delivering the Murray Darling Basin Plan’ report outlines a full range of measures, but Government is neglecting anything that isn’t ‘just adding water’.”
The report outlines a range of options for delivering the Basin Plan:
“The necessary complementary measures required to address key environmental challenges clearly fall under Category 3, and so risk being delayed or ignored,” Ms Miller said.
“If these measures are pushed back into the 2026 review, the process will only just begin after then and it take years before any actual measures are implemented and on the ground.
“2026 is too late for complementary measures, the time is now.”
Complementary measures include habitat restoration, improved fish passage, fish screening, invasive species control, and addressing cold water pollution.
Direct water recovery is largely complete, with 98% of the surface water buybacks already complete, and Sustainable Diversion Limits (SDLs) now in place. This means the Murray-Darling Basin now has just 28% of inflows diverted, with 72% remaining in rivers – a diversion ratio envied around the world.
“Complementary measures have for too long been seen as second-prize, rather than fundamental to delivering the Plan’s desired outcomes,” Ms Miller said.
“Flows are important but can only go so far, if fish then get stuck behind a weir without passageways installed, sucked into an unscreened pump, outcompeted by invasive species, or don’t have sufficient habitat.”