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Murray–Darling Basin drought update

16 July 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 through to more detailed reports and external websites. This update does not replace any state government alerts and updates.

Rainfall and river flows

Most of the Basin received some rain during the last fortnight, with the exceptions being pockets of southern Queensland and western NSW. Once again the highest falls occurred in the southern Basin, with Mt Buffalo (Ovens River catchment) receiving 28mm and Cobram on the River Murray receiving 27mm of rain. Despite some localised relief, rainfall across the Basin continues to be low.

River Murray flows have been increased to supplement the volume stored in Lake Victoria, in readiness for higher demand for water later this year. These flows will be regularly assessed in light of the Bureau of Meteorology’s rainfall outlooks, Lake Victoria water levels and other factors. Some water is being released in to the Barmah-Millewa Forest to provide connectivity between the river and the floodplain.

The Darling River flows at Wilcannia have receded. The release of water for the environment in the Border Rivers and Gwydir River continues to refresh waterholes and wetlands as it moves down the Barwon River. There is currently no inflow to the Menindee Lakes and no significant inflows are expected in the near future.

MurrayDarling Basin rainfall deciles for the week ending 10 July 2019. Source: Bureau of Meteorology


A series of cold fronts moved into southern and eastern Australia and brought snow to Alpine areas, rain (as reported above) and cool temperatures across most of the Basin. Cool temperatures are generally forecast to continue across the Basin in the coming week.

The following maps show the mean maximum and minimum temperatures in Australia for the week ending 13 July 2019.

Maximum and minimum temperature deciles for week ending 30 June 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 on red alert for blue-green algae include:

  • Macintyre River at Boggabilla

  • Lake Copeton

  • Lake Pindari

  • Lake Windamere

Victorian sites with blue-green algae warnings include:

  • Lake Eppalock

  • Cairn Curran Reservoir

  • Waranga Basin

  • Nagambie Lakes

  • Tullaroop Reservoir

  • Central Goulburn Irrigation Area channels (9 system)

  • Loddon Valley Irrigation Area channels and East Loddon Water District

  • Rochester Irrigation Area channels

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 risks.

More information


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.

Around 16 GL of water was recently released through the barrages to help improve salinity in the northern Coorong.

The following map shows the average salinity level (measured in μS/cm) for the week ending 10 July 2019 and the change compared to the average since August 2018 (change over approximately 11 months).

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.

More information

Water in major Basin storages

Northern Basin storages remain at the same level as reported in the last Murray–Darling Basin Drought Update with the exception of Glenlyon Dam which has increased by 1%. Southern Basin storages also remain at similar levels, however, Lake Victoria’s volume has increased by 4% as a result of transfers from Lake Hume.

The volume of bulk water transfers will be regularly re-assessed over the coming months in light of the Bureau of Meteorology’s rainfall outlooks, Lake Victoria water levels and other factors.

Murray-Darling Basin storage levels

More information

Spotlight – intercepting salt

Water flowing through the river system and out to the sea through the Murray Mouth is the only natural way that salt can leave the Basin.

However, river salinity can also be managed through salt interception. Salt interception schemes are an engineering tool used to divert groundwater and drainage water away from the river system.

There are currently eighteen salt interception schemes operating in the southern Basin (see the map below), which divert approximately half a million tonnes of salt away from the river and adjacent landscapes each year. These schemes are implemented in conjunction with the Basin Salinity Management 2030 strategy.

Another method of addressing salinity in the landscape is through improved farming systems. The clearing of native vegetation and the introduction of European farming practices has affected the natural water cycle in the Basin, causing salinity problems. However, improved farming practices can reduce the amount of water entering groundwater systems and the mobilisation of salt.

Under the River Murray joint venture program, the MDBA is responsible for the operation, maintenance and renewal of salt interception schemes that have been constructed over many decades. We coordinate the operation of these schemes to achieve and maintain agreed salinity levels in the River Murray system.

The Water quality and salinity management plan provides a framework for action to protect and enhance water quality and manage salinity in the Basin.

Locations of MDB salt interception schemes

Map of salt interception scheme locations

Salt interception scheme locations

1. Waikerie 2L

7. Pike River

13. Lake Hawthorn^

2. Sunlands/Qualco^

8. Murtho

14. Mildura-Merbein Rehabilitation

3. Waikerie

9. Rufus River

15. Psyche Bend^

4. Woolpunda

10. Upper Darling*

16. Mallee Cliffs

5. Loxton

11. Curlwaa^

17. Barr Creek

6. Bookpurnong

12. Buronga

18. Pyramid Creek

^ indicates state-operated scheme. All others are joint venture schemes
* marker is indicative. Upper Darling scheme is located downstream of Bourke, NSW.

More information

Basin Salinity Management 2030 strategy

Water quality & salinity management plan fact sheet

Support services for farmers and communities

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.

Issue 7  4 June 2019