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article imageNew South Wales pumps oxygen into rivers as fish die in heatwave

By Karen Graham     Jan 15, 2019 in Environment
With a second heatwave sweeping across Australia this week, New South Wales - in the clutches of severe drought - is going to extreme measures after close to a million fish have turned up dead.
All of Australia's eight states are sweltering in this heatwave, with temperatures rising above 40 C (104 F) over the weekend and more to come as the week progresses.
"Plan to keep yourself cool, check in on family and friends and follow the advice from your local health authorities," the Australian Bureau of Meteorology said on social media, according to CNN.
Last week, up to a million fish were found dead, floating in the Darling River in western New South Wales. With the extreme arid conditions, large algae blooms have drawn the oxygen from the water, killing all the fish in large stretches of the river.
Even as cleanup operations were being carried out, the government announced that 1,800 more rotting fish had since been found in Lake Hume in the state’s south, reports the Associated Press.
The Regional Water Minister, Niall Blair announced on Tuesday the state plans to mechanically pump oxygen into lakes and rivers to try and save the fish that are left. To that end, 16 battery-powered aerators have been purchased and will be placed in various drought-affected waterways after their delivery, set for Wednesday.
Blair told reporters, “They are a Band-Aid solution, we admit that. Nothing will stop this fish kill unless we get proper river flows and water levels in our dams back up to normal. We are doing everything we can to try and limit the damage."
Irrigation versus poor management
There are critics of the local government who argue that the impacts from the drought are more the result of improper management decisions in the Murray-Darling River Basin - citing the numerous dams, locks, and weirs controlling the flow of water through the river. Water is also drawn for irrigation.
However, the UK's Independent notes that it has emerged that the New South Wales government reduced funding for the river management system by 60 percent in 2013.
The program was initiated to monitor the health of fish in the river and included a strategy for “sustained commitment” of 50 years with the goal of restoring fish stocks by 60 percent of what it was before the arrival of Europeans on the continent.
Australia has been sweltering in a heatwave
Australia has been sweltering in a heatwave
Peter Parks, AFP/File
But because of those cuts in 2013, the native fish program has been abandoned, maintenance has been delayed and audits of the environment have not been carried out. The issue is that local governments have not had the information needed to make good decisions.
In the meantime, Murray cod, some of them at least 70 years old are among the native species turning up dead. While experts are meeting in Canberra on Tuesday to decide how to respond to the heatwave, Australian National University water expert Daniel Connell says Australia can expect more fish deaths as the heatwave continues.
“It’s a very predictable crisis,” Connell said. “By massively reducing the amount of water in the system, you produce much hotter water, you produce conditions that are much more conducive to algal blooms,” he said.
More about New South Wales, Heatwave, mass fish kill, Oxygen, aerators
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