The state government has asked the Office of the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer (OCSE) to begin an independent review into the millions of fish that died in the Darling-Baaka River in Menindee in March. Minister for Water, Rose Jackson, said the independent inquiry was “to provide the community with certainty that we are thoroughly investigating this matter”.
Menindee resident of nearly 50 years, Geoff Looney, told the Barrier Truth that “it’d be very interesting to see what happens, because we’ve waited so long for an inquiry to be done”, adding bluntly, “anything’s good”.
“It’s certainly encouraging, especially since there’s a change of government because at least the Premier came down here. Whether they can listen, all we want them to do is listen, mainly. We want to have people that want to fix the system, not want to leave it the same way it has been,” Mr Looney says.
The OCSE, led by NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer, Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte who will appoint an expert advisory panel, will also appoint, and consult with a community advisory body, which will include representation from First Nations and local community members.
“There is no doubt the extraordinary number of fish deaths has had a far-reaching effect on Western NSW and beyond,” Prof Durrant-Whyte said.
“My office will be consulting broadly to examine the cause of the fish deaths and will seek advice from subject matter experts to shape the recommendations it will make to the state government.”
The terms of reference for the review will include the environmental conditions in the lead-up to the event, and assessment of monitoring data, management and sufficiency of water flow, the role of different agencies and departments and the subsequent action taken and communication with the community in response to, and during the event.
As well, the review will attempt to monitor data and information that can assist with an appropriate response and reaction via relevant steps and actions to enhance the effectiveness of future responses, and the interventions to be considered to avoid future events.
Minister for the Environment, Penny Sharpe, said that OCSE, for more than a decade “has been providing an invaluable service to the state government, particularly when impartial advice was needed about contentious issues”.
For community members or groups who wish to provide and be involved in the consultation process of the review, including in meetings with the OCSE, you can register your interest by emailing [email protected]. Submissions are also invited on any matter related to the Review Terms of Reference, which can be accessed here: https://bit.ly/3BrDW9R
Ms Jackson anticipates the review will be completed and released by August 31. These findings and recommendations will then drive the state government’s strategic response.