National

Basin plan ‘ignores’ health of NSW river

By AAP Newswire

Locals in far west NSW say they watched the Darling River deteriorate under the plan designed to protect it for years before a series of mass fish deaths caused public outcry across the nation.

Citrus and wine grape grower Rachel Strachan claims the Murray-Darling Basin Plan failed to consider and protect the health of the river and instead prioritised upstream irrigators.

"The water should first be allocated to the health of the ecosystem," she told AAP in Pooncarie on Thursday.

"No one wants to see the death of the Darling River that should be able to support fish - but the health of the river has been forgotten."

Ms Strachan is one of many locals who argue the water is now toxic following three mass fish deaths at Menindee over summer.

Some Aboriginal families who have eaten fish from the river for generations now say they are worried to do so.

"The river is green - that's how you know there're toxins," Cindy Bates told AAP in Menindee.

"Not only are our fish dying but our culture is dying too ... the river is where a lot of our family come from."

Wine grape grower Murray Davies remembers fishing and playing in the river as a child.

Now, he looks at it and says he's appalled at how it has been managed.

"I've been on the river my whole life - I've never seen or heard of it like this," he told AAP.

The NSW government's regional town water supply coordinator James McTavish insists the water is safe to drink and its quality has nothing to do with the fish kills because it goes through a treatment plan.

"All of the water available in town water systems across NSW is safe," he told AAP on Thursday.

Frustrated residents attended a meeting in Pooncarie held by NSW Department of Industry and WaterNSW about the management of the river system on Thursday.

Many questioned the drainage of Menindee Lakes twice in 2017 with some suggesting the mass fish deaths this summer wouldn't have happened if the lakes were full.

Michael Wrathall from the Department of Industry's water division says there was more water flowing through the Darling River system before the first fish death in December last year.

"The flow rate was about 200 megalitres per day and then there was an increase to 300 megalitres per day about a month before the first fish death," he told AAP on Thursday.

NSW Regional Water Minister Niall Blair said he was looking into the operation of Menindee Lakes which are only under the control of the state government when they reach 480 gigalitres.

When the volume of water exceeds 640 gigalitres - like it did in 2017 - the Murray-Darling Basin Authority manages the water releases.

Mr Blair said he would be "more than happy" to consider moving the lakes into NSW's control.