New government needs to act fast: professor

By Country News

Rivers running dry, algal blooms, more fish kills and towns running out of water will all continue to plague the next NSW government if it persists with the same inadequate policies on water management.

That is the warning from University of NSW Sydney’s Professor Richard Kingsford who is an expert in conservation biology, wetland and river management with the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences.

In just over two weeks’ time, voters will head to the polls with the disturbing images of the Darling River fish kills still fresh in their minds, which Prof Kingsford says ‘‘have got people cranky’’.

‘‘Sadly, the state government’s reaction to the anger from the community over the fish kills has been to just blame the drought,’’ Prof Kingsford, who is also director of the Centre for Ecosystem Science, said.

‘‘But this is not happening on other rivers that are affected by drought.

‘‘It’s a crisis primarily on the developed rivers of the Murray-Darling.’’

He said to win the next election, the major political parties would need to articulate a clear policy on water that was not beholden to big industry influences and restored the balance back into the river system for the people.

Prof Kingsford said monitoring, metering and reporting was becoming increasingly important with the Murray-Darling Basin Authority reporting that NSW was only monitoring 25 to 50 per cent of the water taken out of the Darling River.

‘‘You can’t manage a resource responsibly if you are not measuring or regulating its use,’’ Prof Kingsford said.

‘‘The NSW Government is improving measurement and regulation of floodplain harvesting, but it should happen much more quickly.’’

Protecting environmental flows, restoring the Murray-Darling cap levels of 1993 and 1994 and having a transparent economic analysis of water management run over decades rather than limited to a term of government were also needed, according to Prof Kingsford.

He said there were many costs which were never put into economic equations, but should be.

‘‘The costs of towns running out of water, the cost to tourism, poor fishing, loss of grazing, carting of water to homesteads, the massive clean-up for the fish kill, the aeration of the Darling River pools and the saving of some Murray cod by NSW Fisheries officers,’’ he said.