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Murray–Darling Basin drought update

5 November 2019

The Murray─Darling Basin has been in drought for some time. Drought is a significant issue for the Basin and continues to impact on its environment, industries and communities.

This update provides high-level information on the status of the Basin, with links to more detailed reports and external websites. This update does not replace any state government alerts and updates.

Updates on environmental watering activity during spring 2019 are available from the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office website.

Key updates 

  • MDBA Chief Executive, Phillip Glyde responds to drought issues and water availability
  • Significant rainfall has been recorded in the Paroo-Darling region of NSW
  • Overall storage levels declined across the Basin
  • Salinity levels were below average across the River Murray System
  • Learn more about the Future Drought Fund in this fortnight's Spotlight.

Rainfall and river flows

The Paroo-Darling region of New South Wales has experienced significant rainfall over the past week, with Bourke recording almost 100mm since Saturday 1 November. Bourke had not received flows for more than 400 days.

South-west of Bourke, White Cliffs NSW reported flooding as a result of upstream rainfall, as reported by the ABC Broken Hill Facebook page.

Due to record-low soil moisture levels in the northern Basin, much of this rainfall will soak into the soil instead of flowing downstream.

The NSW Government has imposed a restriction on pumping for irrigation from 4 November to
31 December 2019 in the Darling River between the Culgoa confluence upstream of Bourke, and Lake Wetherell in the Menindee lakes system. The order means irrigators with A, B and C class licences who might otherwise extract the water are not permitted to do so, which will preserve the use of flows currently occurring in the Barwon-Darling river for towns, stock and domestic supply only.

The Bureau of Meteorology rainfall maps below show that Victoria received modest rainfall of between 15–25 millimetres in the past week.

BoM rainfall totals for the last two weeks

Murray–Darling Basin rainfall for the weeks ending 27 October and 3 November 2019. Source: Bureau of Meteorology

Despite this welcome rainfall, the Bureau of Meteorology forecast indicates that dry conditions will persist over spring/summer. Drought conditions in areas of New South Wales are now worse than in previously recorded droughts, with an unprecedented 3 consecutive years of very low river flows.


The Basin experienced hotter than average temperatures throughout October. Maximum temperatures ranged from above average to very much above average, with areas from Glen Innes to Tenterfield in NSW recording the highest temperatures on record for October in any year.

Minimum temperatures were also above average across much of the Basin, with only a small area of the upper Murray recording below average minimums.

BOM temperature deciles for October 2019

Maximum and minimum temperature deciles for October 2019.  Source: Bureau of Meteorology

More information

Water quality

Continuing low rainfall across the Basin is affecting water quality. Water quality is continuously monitored, and some areas are on high alert level for blue-green algae.

New South Wales sites with blue-green algae red alert:

  • Lachlan River at Corrong

  • Lake Wyangan (north) at Griffith

Victorian sites with blue-green algae red alert:

  • Tullaroop Reservoir

As part of drought contingency measures, WaterNSW has installed four temporary block banks across the Lower Darling below Pooncarie near Jamesville, below Burtundy near Ashvale, and upstream of Pooncarie at Court Nareen and Karoola. Water held in these pools will assist in maintaining supply to domestic, stock and permanent plantings along the Lower Darling. The MDBA continues to work with state authorities to manage water quality risks. These measures are expected to remain during the drought.

More information


Salinity levels continue to sit below average across all but one of the measurement points in the Murray system. Modest rainfall and delivery of water for the environment are currently helping dilute salt concentrations.

The following map shows the average salinity level (measured in μS/cm) for the week ending 30 October 2019 and the change compared to the average since 1 August 2019.

River Murray Salinity Measurement Map

Salinity measurement locations in River Murray system
* The +/- percentage values in the above map represents the % difference between the most recent ‘average weekly reading’ and a previous average reading. It does not show the difference between the current salinity measurement and the previously reported salinity measurement.

Salinity refers to the concentration of salts in water or soil. High salinity can reduce crop yields, affect aquatic ecosystems and vegetation, and damage infrastructure.

Salinity is measured in EC (electrical conductivity) – the unit of measure used across the Basin is generally microSiemens per centimetre (μS/cm). A salinity level below 800 μS/cm is considered low salinity, however, plant and animal tolerances can range significantly with plant levels generally up to an extreme of 5,800 μS/cm (some plants and animals can cope with higher levels of salinity). By comparison, the salinity of seawater varies although 54,000 μS/cm is an approximate value.

Salinity levels are affected by droughts and floods – high flows help to flush salt from the rivers.

More information

Water in major Basin storages

Water storage levels in the northern Basin have been in decline for three years, and by the end of October 2019 they sat at a combined 8 percent of capacity. This is lower than at any time during the Millenium Drought.

At present, the southern Basin lags about 12 months behind the north in terms of water storage decline (currently 45%), however, the predicted ongoing dry conditions will continue to deplete storage levels.

Murray-Darling Basin storage levels

Water in major storages as reported at 30 October 2019.

More information

Spotlight – Future Drought Fund

The Australian Government through the Department of Agriculture, is building drought resilience through a new $3.9 billion Future Drought Fund. Projects and activities valued to $100 million each year will enhance the drought resilience of Australian farms and communities. The program will begin in July 2020.

The Drought Resilience Funding Plan is high-level framework to guide funding decisions for the projects and activities. Funded projects will:

  • build resilience by helping farms and communities to be more prepared to respond to the impacts of drought
  • lift the productivity and profitability of the agriculture sector
  • enhance the health and sustainability of Australia’s farming.

The Australian Government is inviting submissions on how the Future Drought Fund should be invested. You can have your say by visiting the Department of Agriculture website.

A Consultative Committee will review and consider feedback before providing advice on the draft plan and the design of the programs to the Minister for Water Resources, Drought, Rural Finance, Natural Disaster and Emergency Management.


Rural Financial Counselling Service

The Rural Financial Counselling Service (1800 686 175) provides financial counselling services to farmers, including assistance with financial and business options, developing a financial action plan, accessing government assistance schemes, and referring to other service providers.

Australian Government assistance

The Australian Government provides a number of assistance measures to support farm families, farm businesses and rural communities to prepare for, manage through and recover from drought and other hardship.

The Regional Investment Corporation is offering drought loans for farmers to help them prepare for, manage through or recover from drought.​

Assistance in Queensland

The Queensland Government is offering programs to help farm families, farm businesses and farm communities affected by drought.

Assistance in New South Wales

NSW DroughtHub provides a one-stop online destination for information on a vast range of services and support available to primary producers, their families and communities to prepare for and manage drought.

Assistance in Victoria

The Victorian Government supports farmers throughout Victoria to prepare and respond to drought through technical, financial and personal support.

Assistance in South Australia

The South Australian Government provides a number of services and avenues for assistance to support farm families, farm businesses and rural communities prepare for and manage the drought conditions.

Updated: 19 Nov 2019