Jason Alexandra writes in The Conversation (15.1.19) about the discovery of mass fish deaths and diminished water supplies in tributaries of the Darling River, highlighting how public confidence in the institutions in charge of the Murray Darling Basin has understandably plummeted.
'Fish deaths in the Darling River have once more raised the public profile of incessant political controversies about the Murray Darling Basin. These divisive debates reveal the deeply contested nature of reforms to water policy in the Basin.
'It feels like Australia has been here before – algae blooms are not uncommon in these rivers. In 1992, the Darling suffered the world’s largest toxic algal bloom, over 1,000 kilometres long. This crisis became an iconic catalyst, and helped prompt the state and federal governments agreeing to water reforms in 1994.
'Hopefully, our current crisis may be an opportunity to shine a strong light on the complexities of governing the Basin, and initiate the meaningful reforms needed to restore public trust.
'… We need careful deliberation about the institutions that will rebuild public confidence and restore trust in the governing of the Murray Darling. It’s time to develop a 21st century system that is cooperative, transparent and just.'
The Darling River is simply not supposed to dry out, even in drought
Fran Sheldon writes in The Conversation (16.1.19) that, while mass fish deaths are a blaring warning sign for the health of the Murray Darling Basin, just as worrying is the sight of dry areas in the Darling River.
'The deaths of a million of fish in the lower Darling River system over the past few weeks should come as no surprise. Quite apart from specific warnings given to the NSW government by their own specialists in 2013, scientists have been warning of devastation since the 1990s.
'Put simply, ecological evidence shows the Barwon-Darling River is not meant to dry out to disconnected pools – even during drought conditions. Water diversions have disrupted the natural balance of wetlands that support massive ecosystems.
'Unless we allow flows to resume, we’re in danger of seeing one of the worst environmental catastrophes in Australia.
'... The Basin Plan has come some way in restoring some flows to the Barwon-Darling, but unless we find a way to restore more of the low and medium flows to this system we are likely witnessing Australia’s worst environmental disaster.'