Menindee fish deaths ‘out of NSW Government’s hands’ says Regional Water Minister Niall Blair
29 JANUARY 2019
Menindee residents hijacked NSW Regional Water Minister Niall Blair’s press conference on the banks of the Darling River today, to vent their frustrations about the latest mass fish kill there.
- New photos have revealed the extent of the latest mass fish kill at Menindee
- Niall Blair says the only fix for the Darling River’s health woes is fresh water flows
- Many people in the outback town say they have been forced to buy fresh water to survive
The town in the state’s far west has been at the centre of a continuing ecological disaster, amid a spate of fish deaths there in the past two months.
Locals shouted over each other to ask Mr Blair questions, after they woke to shocking images of hundreds of thousands of fish floating on the Darling River.
“The lakes were full!” one yelled before another shouted: “Youse let it go … What are you going to do about the cotton?”
People in the outback town blame the crisis on water use by cotton irrigators, as well as authorities’ decisions to empty the nearby Menindee Lakes in 2014 and 2017.
Cotton Australia said all major cotton growing valleys in north-west NSW had no water allocated to them this harvest season.
The fish are suffocating as a result of a blue-green algal bloom that has affected parts of the river.
Mr Blair said the situation was unprecedented and he decided to travel to Menindee immediately so he could “see if there’s anything else that can be done”.
“This has to stop,” he said.
“I don’t want to see this ever again.”
‘Let’s see if there is corruption’
The South Australian Government held a royal commission into the operations and effectiveness of the Murray Darling Basin system last year.
The royal commission’s findings were handed to the South Australian Government today.
“Let’s see if there is corruption and make sure that is taken care of … we would start with Canberra because it’s their legislation,” Mr Blair said.
The Minister said he was keen to hear suggestions about how to improve the river and said the water aerators installed earlier this month were a “band-aid” fix.
When Mr Blair visited Menindee earlier this month he faced threats to his safety which saw him dodge a gathering of locals on the river bank.
He said he had not received any threats ahead of today’s visit.
Poor water quality in the Darling River at Menindee has sparked health warnings, with many locals forced to buy fresh water.
Local Wayne Marsden, who has lived in Menindee for 66 years, said he is “incredibly stressed” trying to ration his water.
“Last week I was told the next allocation would be cut in half so only 10,000 litres for the month,” he said.
“If it wasn’t for the water delivery by the community of Griffith on the weekend we would be in real trouble.”
Mr Blair said the NSW Government was still assessing the first fish kill on December 15 and would use expert advice to devise an “appropriate recovery plan”.
“We knew that our aerators were nothing better than a band-aid solution, but we were willing to try everything that we could,” he said.
“The only thing that will really change these conditions at the moment is fresh water coming through the system and there is just no possibility of that at the moment.”