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A Budget for the Darling-Baaka

Independent Reports

The 2024-25 NSW Budget paves the way for decisive action on water quality in the Far West by delivering $25 million to establish the Restoring the Darling-Baaka River Program to help nurse the system back to health using ground-breaking science, data and infrastructure.

In a first for the state, the program will deliver a suite of initiatives that will build on the significant progress made since Minister for Water Rose Jackson instigated an independent investigation into the March 2023 mass fish deaths at Menindee, conducted by the Office of the NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer (OCSE).

Over the past 12 months, the NSW Government has been ramping up river monitoring and increasing resources across agencies to improve the way we manage and respond to water quality issues along the river, as part of our plan to address the OCSE recommendations in full.

In addition, the government has fast-tracked an innovative one-year trial, in partnership with other Basin States, to access environmental water to improve connectivity between the northern and southern Murray Darling Basin.

This enabled NSW to deliver a flush from the upper Menindee Lakes through the lower Darling-Baaka at the end of May which has helped clear the infestation of blue-green algae that has plagued the region for weeks, providing much needed relief for communities that rely on the river.

Now we’re turning our attention to rolling out our Restoring the Darling-Baaka River Program which includes:

  • More than $6.5 million to trial state-of-the-art temporary fish passage technologies such as a new retrofitted tube design which allows fish to pass over weirs and river barriers to escape poor water quality events and reduce the chance of future mass fish deaths.
  • $6 million to complete a detailed business case for permanent fish passage in the Lower Darling and Menindee Lakes system which could restore 518km of connectivity between the northern and southern Murray Darling Basin.
  • Nearly $4.5 million to design and implement a Menindee-specific mass fish death event response plan to clearly explain triggers, agency and community responsibilities in the event of an incident. This funding will also:
    • Assist the response to future mass fish deaths by providing resources that will be ready to go in the event of an incident
    • Assess and improve the capability of emergency services and functions in the region
    • Assist ongoing non-emergency communications and engagement with the community
  • Nearly $3 million to install new real-time multi-parameter water quality monitoring buoys and data loggers, undertake a scientific study on the impacts of mass fish deaths on Weir 32 water quality and develop new hydrodynamic modelling to improve knowledge and understanding of the river.
  • $1 million towards ongoing maintenance and operation of real-time water quality sensors and other water quality monitoring in the weir pool to allow decision makers to respond rapidly to changing conditions.
  • Over $1.7 million to set up a new governance model which will coordinate integrated management of land use, water and natural resources to improve ecological outcomes.
  • $600,000 for strategic planning for on-ground rehabilitation works to improve water quality, ecological and cultural outcomes, such as new fencing, trees, erosion control methods that reduce sediment entering the river and more Aboriginal access to riparian areas.
  • $720,000 to provide on-the-ground resources in Menindee to support the program.
  • More than $1 million to develop a new water quality monitoring framework to make our data easier to navigate and identify knowledge gaps.
  • The NSW Government has now published its full response to the OCSE report, which is supported by this year’s Budget, as part of our commitment to openness and transparency.

Review the NSW Government’s response to the OCSE report (PDF, 14271.64 KB).

Minister for Water, Rose Jackson, said:

“The Darling-Baaka River is the lifeblood of many communities in Far Western NSW and this year’s Budget puts money on the table to lay the foundation for delivering the long-term measures that we know are needed to get it back into shape.

“It was not lost on me when I took this job, the scale of the challenge ahead of us because at the end of the day, there is no silver bullet when it comes to resetting river health in a system that is under more pressure than ever before.

“Although we have already taken some positive steps forward, this is an incredibly complex issue in an age where the climate is more unpredictable, which is why we are rolling out a dedicated program of work to take our support to the next level in helping to restore and protect the Darling- Baaka for future generations.

“I’m particularly excited to see us experimenting with new fishway technology while we’re working on solutions for permanent fish passage over the long-term.

“My first action as Minister for Water with my colleague, Minister for the Environment, Penny Sharpe, was to call for the independent investigation into the horrific fish deaths of March 2023.

“The Chief Scientist’s report has provided a roadmap for ensuring that we do everything in our power to avoid these events in the future while boosting the overall health of the river. This funding is a leg up in achieving these goals.”