Mal Johnson is not pleased. Over the past few days, the Cohuna farmer has been cleaning up dead fish and plants on his land in northern Victoria from an irrigation canal.
Mr. Johnson said, “I walked up onto the channel bank, looked into the water and there was just a foot-wide stream of fish, all dead,”
This week, the Torrumbarry Irrigation Channel was injected with the toxic herbicide Acrolein to get rid of weeds that are blocking the system that supplies more than 100 agricultural properties in the area with water.
“I’ve walked up here several times in the last few days, and I go home and say why? Why does this keep on happening to our environment? It’s just not fair,” said Mr. Johnson.
Goulburn-Murray Water (GMW) confirmed the herbicide treatment to irrigators and advised them not to use channel water for 72 hours afterwards.
Water filled with dead fish is intended to be healthy.
But Mr. Johnson is still pulling dead fish from the water three days later.
“This channel is meant to be safe to use today,” he said.
But he is concerned that botulism in cattle can be caused by dead fish and plants in the water.
Tim Nitschke, GMW assistant manager, confirmed that the water was safe for use.
He said, “I’m extremely confident that it is safe,”
There have been several, many studies done on this product. To demonstrate that, we have also carried out numerous and detailed water quality testing programs,”There have been many, many studies done on this product. We’ve also done multiple and extensive water quality testing programs to demonstrate that,”
Mr. Nitschke said it was expected to destroy fish during the application of herbicides, but there was no alternative.
The ecologist claims that obsolete herbicide destroys endangered species,
“Acroelin is our last resort,” he said.
“We don’t use it as our ‘go-to’ product, but it’s something we use when we have no other options.”
But Acrolein is an ineffective herbicide from the 1960s and kills endangered species such as the growling grass frog, ecologist Damien Cook said.
“It was once described as the most common species of frog — now there’s only one population that we know of in the area,” said Mr. Cook.
One of the reasons it has deteriorated is the use of herbicides and environmental chemicals.
“The frog has gone from being one of the most common species to now being endangered.”
Although the Torrumbarry Channel was an artificially built irrigation network, Mr Cook said the channels remained a significant habitat along the Murray-Darling Basin for aquatic life.
“This area was rich in floodplains and had a lot of aquatic life, but the system has been modified and a lot of animals have actually moved into the channels,”This area was rich in floodplains and had a lot of aquatic life, but the system was modified and a lot of animals have moved into the channels.
Weeds block channel irrigation
But Kerang farmer Geoff Kendell said that along the channels, the weeds are causing headaches and need to be removed.
“Goulburn-Murray Water will ring us up and say ‘What’s wrong? You’re supposed to be having 20 megalitres coming out of the channel, and you’re only getting three out,'” he said.
“It’s the weed that’s causing the problem.”
Mr Kendell, however, said that GMW should have taken a constructive rather than a reactive approach.
They were expected to dry out the channels and the creeks in winter and let the frost kill most of the weeds,”They should have dried the channels and the creeks out in winter and allowed the frost to kill most of the weeds,”
The idea was under consideration, Mr Nitschke said.
“GMW is definitely looking at de-watering our network more regularly,” he said.
“There are losses associated with that, but we’re trying to find that right balance — making sure we still provide irrigation water to our farmers so that they can produce food and fibre.”