En­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ter “needs in­de­pen­dent in­quiry”

The Free Press (Corowa) - - FRONT PAGE -

De­niliquin fish­er­man and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Ian Fisher be­lieves a high level in­de­pen­dent in­quiry must be held into the en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ter that has un­folded along parts of the Mur­ray River sys­tem fol­low­ing re­cent floods.

“Fish, birds and an­i­mals in their thou­sands have been poi­soned by toxic wa­ter in what has been de­scribed as the worst en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ter in this re­gion in liv­ing mem­ory,” he said.

“There is a view that gov­ern­ment-ini­ti­ated en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­grams have killed the very same fish, birds and an­i­mals they are sup­posed to pro­tect.

“The con­se­quences could be felt for many years, per­haps decades.”

Ian de­scribed the death along the Ed­ward River and its trib­u­taries near his home town as “dev­as­tat­ing and heart-break­ing”.

He has spent decades work­ing on pro­grams to in­crease na­tive fish species, and the suc­cess has been ev­i­dent with large num­bers be­ing caught by recre­ational an­glers.

But it may all be in vain with young and old, big and small na­tive fish dead and dy­ing, cre­at­ing a stench in some parts of the sys­tem.

Mr Fisher’s key ques­tion is: Why has this hap­pened?

“We must thor­oughly in­ves­ti­gate this hy­poxic Black­wa­ter event to learn why it has been much worse than pre­vi­ous events,” he said.

“We know oxy­gen lev­els in the river and trib­u­taries are re­duced after a flood and they can cause fish kills but why is this the worst we have seen?”

Mr Fisher said it was dis­ap­point­ing the Black­wa­ter event does not ap­pear to have gen­er­ated much in­ter­est from ei­ther politi- cians or bu­reau­crats, adding the Mur­ray-Dar­ling Basin Author­ity in par­tic­u­lar should have a large team of in­ves­ti­ga­tors in the re­gion to try and de­ter­mine why there has been an en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ter of this mag­ni­tude.

He said he fears this ab­sence is be­cause they are afraid of what an in­ves­ti­ga­tion may un­cover.

“The log­i­cal cause is a com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors based around en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­grams in re­cent years,” Mr Fisher said.

“For ex­am­ple, since the re­gion’s forests be­came National Parks we have stopped sus­tain­able har­vest­ing and graz­ing and as a con­se­quence there is more tim­ber and other leaf lit­ter ly­ing around on the for­est floor.

“Hy­poxic Black­wa­ter is the re­sult of re­duced oxy­gen in the wa­ter, caused by decaying veg­e­ta­tion and bac­te­ria that feed on car­bon.”

Mr Fisher said there has also been more reg­u­lar flood­ing of forests in re­cent years as part of regulated en­vi­ron­men­tal flows.

“These may also be hav­ing an im­pact,” he said.

“I am a strong sup­porter of an emerg­ing sci­en­tific view that the ‘just add wa­ter’ en­vi­ron­men­tal ap­proach which has been adopted with im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Mur­ray-Dar­ling Basin Plan is false and sim­plis­tic.

“How se­ri­ous is our gov­ern­ment about get­ting the best en­vi­ron­men­tal out­comes for our pre­cious river sys­tem and if it is gen­uine we must have a well-re­sourced and in­de­pen­dent assess­ment of the en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ter we have seen un­fold.”

Mr Fisher said un­for­tu­nately he hasn’t seen or heard any lo­cal po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives mak­ing much noise, nor has state of fed­eral en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ters or their depart­ment per­son­nel shown an in­ter­est.

“Yet they bang their drum about the need to spend bil­lions of dol­lars on pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment,” he said.

“If it is the en­vi­ron­ment they re­ally want to pro­tect we must take ac­tion to find out why we have killed so many fish, birds and wildlife and work out strate­gies to en­sure it is never re­peated.

“We must do some­thing to pro­tect what Mother Na­ture has given us in our back yard.”

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