Fish kill shows more Murray-Darling Basin reform needed, leading experts say

This week's fish deaths at Menindee followed another mass event in the Darling River last month.

This week's fish deaths at Menindee followed another mass event in the Darling River last month.

WATER experts say this week’s Darling River fish kill shows more reform is needed to protect the integrity of the Murray-Darling Basin.

Professor Quentin Grafton, chair of the UNESCO Chair in Water Economics and Transboundary Water Governance, said the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was supposed to fix the issue, “but it hasn’t”.

“The problem is that we are extracting too much water from the river and not leaving enough for the fish or anyone else who actually wants to swim or enjoy our river systems,” he said.

“It's time to make those in charge, elected and appointed, accountable for lowering the volumes needed to increase stream flows.”

Professor Mike Young, research chair in water and environmental policy at the University of Adelaide, said: "If no water had been taken, other than for domestic purposes, would (the fish kill) have happened? I think that depends on how the flow is managed."

Professor Young – one of the architects of the unbundling of water from land and the development of Australia's trading system for water rights – said the MDBA needed to set minimum daily "hands off" flow requirements for every reach of the river.

"You'd have (a gauge) at every town and sometimes between towns at places that are well known and easy to monitor and see," Prof Young said.

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Minimum flow requirements could realistically be incorporated into water resource plans, to be accredited by the MDBA this year, he said, suggesting they be instituted alongside a ban on any unmetered extraction starting from the very next irrigation season.

"We might not agree to the numbers that would be in place but at least we would have regulation of the concept," Prof Young said, adding that reforms should go further.

He said basin water ministers' power over the MDBA should be limited to appointing the authority's members, similar to the Reserve Bank model of governance.

"It's lessons like this (fish kill) that reveal the last round of reforms that need to take place," he said.

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