Environmental disaster “needs independent inquiry”
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.”