Four tons of dead fish were discovered floating in Australia’s Lower Darling River this week, marking the third mass ecological disaster for the region in as many months and causing heightened tension between locals, irrigators, and politicians.
The fish suffocated in oxygen-starved water due to a rise in blue-green algae. The New South Wales Government claim the ongoing drought is to blame.
Locals in the nearby township of Menindee, however, say the grim state of the river is due to the recent decision by the New South Wales Government to all but empty the Menindee Lakes to relieve water shortages around Australia.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack opposed claims that this decision negatively impacted the river’s water quality and quantity.
"Governments don't make it rain. The fact is it is very, very, dry there," McCormack told Nine Network.
https://t.co/XgVPAmg5XL This is what an ecological collapse looks like. Over a million fish have died in the past month in Menindee, Australia due to poor environmental and water management. This is part of Australia's most important river system, and may never recover. via /u/… pic.twitter.com/IdJChXOjgO— pics (@picsreddit) January 29, 2019
Rob Greggory, president of the Menindee Tourism Association, told reporters the decision to empty the Menindee Lakes meant the Darling River was receiving almost no fresh water. Greggory further stated that without fresh water, blue-green algae will continue and fish populations along the Darling may never recover.
"What we are seeing is probably the last lot of fish that are here now,” he said. “There will be none left.”
This week's latest fish kill has reinforced the larger water shortage and sanitation issues facing locals who live in cattle properties and townships along the river. Algae-infested tap water means locals are being forced to buy bottled water to drink, bathe, and feed cattle.
"There is a basic right to clean water. And we don't have it,” local Lauren Blunden told The Project.
Drought-related financial struggles mean farmers are also being forced to sell their breeding stock to cover their day-to-day costs. Brian Egan, the co-founder of rural support charity Aussie Helpers, said many farmers were now living in third-world conditions.
"Farmers are having to sell, and have sold, 52% of the breeding stock in New South Wales because they can't feed the damn things. They have to go to service stations to have a shower,” he told Weekend TODAY. “It's becoming a natural disaster."
The broader health issues associated with contaminated water are also of concern.
Exposure to blue-green algae is linked to motor neuron disease. The disease, which affects 1 in 11,000 Australians, has been diagnosed in three Menindee locals over the past few years. Menindee has a population of 500.