'Beyond bizarre': NSW town fumes as river turns 'toxic'

Nick Whigham
·Assistant News Editor
·4-min read

A small rural town in New South Wales has been left furious after part of their water supply turned green, leaving locals warning of a looming ecological catastrophe.

Two years on from mass fish kills in the Darling River near the township of Menindee in western NSW, frustrated locals are warning that mismanagement of the all important water basin and a new algae bloom threatens to see a repeat of wildlife deaths.

Part of the river system which provides water to the local township of roughly 600 people turned a concerning green colour last month.

Locals have been left angry by the algae bloom outbreak.
Locals have been left angry at the current state of the popular waterway. Source: Facebook/Michael Minns

Local photographer Michael Minns has been documenting the situation, posting videos and photos of the river, showing the extent of the blue-green algae outbreak.

"The whole River isn’t like this just some parts but it is a huge warning sign things aren’t right," he wrote on Facebook on Sunday.

Fears of future fish kills

Mr Minns took the photos while on the boat of Menindee man Graeme McCrabb who has also been sounding the alarm on the situation.

In a recent video he posted on social media while on the green-coated water, he complained about upstream irrigators taking too much water – a long and fraught dispute between those along the Murray Darling.

“They’ve used environmental water to help trigger extraction volumes upstream, while we are dealing with algae blooms down here,” he lamented.

“We are two years on from the worst fish kill in the Murray Darling Basin and we are lining up for a similar set of events in 12 months time," he said, referring to next summer.

“Beyond bizarre.”

Toxic blue-green algae has grown to dangerous levels .
The toxic blue-green algae has grown to dangerous levels. Source: Facebook/Michael Minns

Despite recent rain, those downstream say water isn't making it to them in sufficient quantities, creating the conditions for the algae bloom as not enough water is flushing through to the Lower Darling.

Speaking to The Guardian, McCrabb argued the problem lies in the government’s failure to address over-extraction by upstream irrigators and unregulated harvesting of floodplain water, which has caused a major drop in the amount of water actually reaching them.

WaterNSW contends that the supply in the Lower Darling is not reliant on upstream flows due to sufficient water in the Menindee Lakes, despite their low levels.

"Algal blooms are a common occurrence this time of year due to a myriad of factors which include warmer weather, lower water turbidity, increased light and abundant nutrient supply," a spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia.

"Currently, there is close to 300,000 ML of water stored in the Menindee Lakes, with a proportion of this being held by environmental water holders.

"We are keeping a close eye on the situation in Menindee as well as conditions across the whole of the northern basin. The northern basin usually receives rainfall across the summer and autumn months," they said.

"WaterNSW is working with other agencies and customers to consider drought response if rainfall does not occur during this period."

Pictures of the green river system.
Locals are sounding the alarm about the environmental consequences. Source: Facebook/Michael Minns

The algae outbreak comes amid a NSW parliamentary inquiry tasked with examining proposed NSW water infrastructure and the impact of new dams, with the aim of returning more water to the environment.

But Menindee locals are reportedly so displeased with the current situation that local stakeholder groups are boycotting parts of the consultation with the government.

Reacting to The Guardian report, South Australian independent senator Rex Patrick blamed the situation on a number of factors, including climate change and poor management.

"What’s going on? Easy!" he wrote Monday.

"Years of over-extraction, politically derived sustainable diversion limits, reducing inflows due to climate change but no adjustment in water take, flood plain harvesting, maladministration, theft, greed and hydro-denialism."

Algae bloom 'potentially toxic': WaterNSW

On January 30, WaterNSW issued a "red alert" over the toxic algae bloom.

"A red alert level warning indicates that people should not undertake recreational activities where they may be coming into direct contact with the water such as swimming, as well as domestic uses including showering and washing.

"Contact with the water may also pose a threat to livestock and pets," Water NSW said in a statement.

"The species of blue-green algae identified are potentially toxic and may cause gastroenteritis in humans if consumed and skin and eye irritations after contact.

"People should not eat mussels or crayfish from red alert warning areas. Any fish caught should be cleaned and washed thoroughly in uncontaminated water and any internal organs disposed of before consumption."

Those who believe they have been affected by the algae were also advised by WaterNSW to seek medical attention.

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