Saturday 26 January 2019

Menindee Fish Kill: Questions and Answers.

Maryanne Slattery and co-author Rod Campbell, for The Australia Institute, released a week ago a paper structured as a question and answer session about the Menindee environmental catastrophe. Regrettably, their release was given scarce media coverage. I could find only Anne Davies’ brief account (January 19).

Slattery, the lead author, is a Senior Water Researcher at The Australia Institute. Previous to that position, she had 12 years experience working for the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and its predecessor, the Murray-Darling Basin Commission. The paper sheds considerable light -- in a language accessible to the wider public -- on the administrative/bureaucratic failings of the Basin management, which the authors seem fully qualified to judge, argue at length and document in painstaking detail.

A brief extract of the questions and answers the paper contains (readers are directed to the paper for the details and complete answers):
Q: Were the fish kills caused by the drought?
A: No.
Q: Why are the Menindee Lakes and Lower Darling so dry?
A: The lakes were drained in late 2016 and 2017.
Q: What’s behind the change in inflows to the Menindee Lakes?
A: Drought and high temperatures are a factor, but a key issue is that smaller flow events now rarely reach Menindee. Large floods still occur, but smaller flows to regularly replenish the system have largely stopped. River regulation and irrigation development are playing a key role in this change.
Q: Who is responsible for draining the lakes?
A: The MDBA coordinated the management of the lakes for most of this time and is partly responsible. However, claims by the NSW Water Minister that this crisis was “under the control of Canberra” are false.
Q: Why were the lakes drained? Was it for the downstream environment?
A: No.
Q: Were the lakes drained to meet South Australia’s needs?
A: No.
Q: Were the lakes drained to save evaporation?
A: Yes, long-standing practice by the MDBA is to prioritise releases from Menindee Lakes above other storages to minimise evaporation. However, causing an ecological disaster to avoid evaporation can hardly be described as good environmental management, particularly when downstream areas were in flood.
Q: What’s really going on?
A: There is very little transparency around exactly why the lakes were drained by the MDBA with the consent of the BOC and state governments. A possible part of the answer is that the lakes were drained to justify the Menindee Lakes Water Saving Project, related changes to the Basin Plan and the related Broken Hill pipeline project.
Q: Does this affect communities and ecosystems outside of the Darling and Northern Basin?
A: Absolutely.


Slattery has authored other pieces about the Basin. A list of her work for The Australia Institute can be found here. A particularly relevant piece is her 2018 submission to the SA Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission.


Late last Friday afternoon the Government released the Productivity Commission’s 430-page long 5-year review of the Murray-Darling Basin management. Christopher Knaus (January 25) provides a summary account.

It’s hard to judge on such short notice how the Productivity Commission’s inquiry compares with the Slattery/Campbell paper. Some of both studies’ recommendations coincide. The PC report, however, dealt heavily on financial aspects; the S/C paper didn’t.

SA Greens federal senator Sarah Hanson-Young found this latest report “damning”, showing “serious mismanagement of the basin plan”. It, Hanson-Young added, demonstrated that the $13bn investment was not going where it was intended.

27-01-2019. Marty McCarthy and Kath Sullivan (January 25) present a more extensive summary of the Productivity Commission’s report. This is how they conclude:
The Productivity Commission's report was handed to the government last month [i.e. December 2018], just days after basin governments reached a major agreement.
Its report therefore does not consider the terms of the deal and it was also received by government before major fish kills were recorded in the lower Darling River.
The deaths of hundreds of thousands of fish have prompted the Federal Government, Opposition and NSW Government to investigate.
The South Australian Royal Commission into the Murray-Darling Basin is expected to report early next month.
The MDBA has declined to comment.
NSW regional Minister Niall Blair and Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville were also contacted for comment.

No comments:

Post a Comment