Tuesday, 12 February 2019
This is a constituency statement, so I want to reflect on some of the concerns that have been raised in my community about the fish kill in the lower Darling recently. Over the summer, we have seen over a million fish killed in the lower Darling. There seem to be a lot of people who are angry about it, and rightly so, but there is a lot of lack of knowledge around the two different systems, the Murray and the Darling. One of the easiest ways to describe them is that the Darling River is more like a tin roof—when you get a large rainfall event, you get a large downfall of water that comes down the Darling River. In contrast, the Murray River is more like a tank—you've got snow melt, you've got more winter based rainfall and you can hold that in Hume and in Dartmouth. Just to get an understanding of how the two different river systems work is very pertinent if you're going to understand what the issues are on the lower Darling.
The Darling, of course, runs down to the Menindee Lakes. The Menindee Lakes are a high-evaporation storage, but they are the last storage on the Darling River. Under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, increasingly there have been efforts to find ways to offset water losses in order to achieve a certain amount of water that makes its way down into the Lower Lakes, Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert, and the Coorong. One of the offsets has been to say that we should drain the Menindee Lakes more quickly, to eliminate that evaporation, in order to have that water for the Lower Lakes. But unfortunately we are now seeing that there are greater consequences, because we are seeing drier times down the lower Darling. There has also been an effort to try and run water out of the lower Darling and down the lower Darling Anabranch.
The question we've got to start to ask ourselves, if we're going to look after the fish stocks in the Menindee Lakes and the lower Darling, is: should we be trying to keep the anabranch as well as the Darling healthy? I think we can really only do one. And we really probably need to look at some engineering works in the Menindee Lakes that can hold more water in there. Whilst it is a high-evaporation storage, it is still the last storage on the Darling River and it still is important that we look after the fish stocks by holding some more water there.
In the last few seconds I have, can I just offer some commentary. We've got to be very careful not to fall into the trap of bagging out cotton and rice in Australia and just say that permanent plantings are irrelevant, because we have a wetting and drying cycle. When it is very wet, we can of course grow annual crops, but, when it is dry, those annual crops don't get planted, and we prioritise things like almonds, vines for wine and table grapes, oranges, stone fruit and olives. My community needs to be very smart not to bag out one area out of the other. We can run this properly but I believe we need to hold more water back in Menindee and focus on the lower Darling, not the lower Darling Anabranch. (Time expired)