Fish deaths mean NSW water plan 'failed'

Murray Cod Australia says no effect from Darling River fish deaths

Dick Arnold and Rob McBride held up two massive fish as they accused the government and cotton growers for the "man made environmental disaster" which they said made them feel like crying.

Buckingham was trying to highlight the recent death of around a million fish in the Darling River, and was trying to point blame at the Nationals for their handling of water policies.

"What this issue highlights is how hard the management of the Menindee Lakes is".

Cotton Australia said drought was affecting the river system and that the industry was also suffering, forecasting its crop this season would be half of the previous year's.

Farmers, ranchers and other residents of the area, however, say actions by water officials and the state government of New South Wales have left the fish more vulnerable.

For his part, NSW Water Minister Niall Blair visited Menindee on Wednesday to survey the carnage first hand, but snubbed the 160 concerned community members who had gathered to speak to him.

"Unfortunately this is the sort of thing we do see during drought", he said. "We've spent decades and $13 billion only to end up with ecological tragedy in our rivers".

"In fact, numerous fish kills occurred in the lower Darling and Menindee Lakes in the period 2002- 2004 during the Millennium drought", he said, citing Lake Pamamaroo which dried out in December 2002, three separate fish kill events in August 2003 on the Darling including at Menindee and one upstream of Pooncarie in February 2004 involving hundreds of Murray Cod.

"On the Barwon-Darling, the impact on cotton production is even more devastating with zero hectares of cotton being grown in Bourke this season, down from 4,000 hectares the year before", the general manager of Cotton Australia, Michael Murray, said.

"The scale of this disaster is extraordinary and unprecedented", the opposition leader said in a statement.

Independent MP Jeremy Buckingham posted the footage of the incident to Twitter earlier today.

"The huge extraction of water for big irrigators is literally choking the life out of the system downriver and leaving stagnant, blue-green algae infested dregs for everyone else", he said. But, as an industry, we are growing very exhausted of being "the whipping boy" for all the problems that are being brought on by this crippling drought.

The immediate cause of the mass fish kill is believed to be a sudden drop in temperature that killed algal blooms in the water, depleting it of oxygen and causing fish to die.

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

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