Over 20 million native fish died in one of Australia's biggest rivers in February 2023 alone

Over 20 million native fish died in one of Australia's biggest rivers in February 2023 alone

Tolarno Station, along the Murray-Darling River, out west in New South Wales has been facing over-extraction of water and mismanagement that saw a million fish reported to have died in the river back in 2019.

Kate McBride is the Australia Institute’s Parliamentary Liaison Officer, working on water and rural issues, and has appeared on numerous radio, podcast and TV shows, including being featured on the Australian Story ‘Cry me a river’.

She has fought to raise awareness of the river management and what’s happening further upstream and told REX hosts Rebecca Greaves and Hamish McKay there is a massive issue with over-extraction in the Murray-Darling River.

"I don't think there is anyone in Australia who would say we are not taking too much from this river system," she said.

Although they have implemented the Murray-Darling Basin plan that aims to remedy the issues and return some water to the environment but McBride said it is an expensive plan that is taking a long time to produce any positive outcomes.

"It's really as simple as we're taking too much water out of a really fragile river system and then when we do have water we're not managing it very well either."

Four years ago that story went viral but McBride said the number of fish that died in the Murray-Darling river this year is 20 to 30 times worse.

"They reckon 20 to 30 million native fish died in February of this year."

Irrigation for particularly 'thirsty' crops such as cotton and almonds, has played a significant role in the increased water extraction. 

"In the last 20 years, we have seen a 900% increase in almonds. Every almond takes between 4 and 12 litres of water to grow and people don't realise it.

"I've heard a lot of people saying 'we're trying to go onto almond milk to help the environment' and I go, there might be better alternatives."

Although there are generally regulations around how much water can be taken by individuals and businesses from the Murray-Darling River, McBride said the Government has handed out too many licenses to multi-national companies over time and if nothing is done to change this, it's a lose, lose for everyone.

"We're really pushing for voluntary, open tender buy-backs. This isn't the government coming in saying 'We're going to take your water', this is them saying 'We're willing to buy it if you guys come to us.

"It's the cheapest and most efficient way of putting water back into the river."

The current Murray-Darling Basin plan is set to expire in 2024, and McBride told Greaves and McKay it is no where near meeting the targets that were initially set.

She hopes once the plan finishes next year a conversation will be had about what alternate actions it can take to begin to return water to the Murray-Darling River.

Listen to the full chat between Kate McBride from Tolarno Station, Rebecca Greaves and Hamish McKay above.

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