The Murray-Darling Basin Authority has released its interim report into the mass fish kills over the summer, finding that climate change was likely one of the major contributing factors to the three mass deaths.
The report follows an investigation by a team from the Australian Academy of Sciences, which concluded that ongoing inaction by the NSW state government threatens the viability of the entire ecosystem.
Chair of the expert panel, ANU Professor Craig Moritz FAA, said the sight of millions of dead fish from the three fish kills was a wake-up call.
“To me, it was like the coral bleaching event for the mainland,” Professor Moritz said.
“Our review of the fish kills found there isn’t enough water in the Darling system to avoid catastrophic outcomes. This is partly due to the ongoing drought. However, analysis of rainfall and river flow data over decades points to excess water extraction upstream.”
The expert panel recommends that urgent steps can and should be taken within six months to improve the quality of water throughout the Darling River.
“That should include the formation of a Menindee Lakes restoration project to determine sustainable management of the lakes system and lower Darling and Darling Anabranch,” Professor Moritz said.
The panel also recommends a return to the framework of the 2012 Murray Darling Basin Plan to improve environmental outcomes.
“The best possible scenario is water in the Darling all the way to the bottom and in most years. We are hopeful that this could be achieved if the panel’s recommendations are implemented,” Professor Moritz said.