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Murray–Darling Basin drought update

13 March 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. 

In the six months to December 2018, inflows to the River Murray system were within the lowest 10% on record. Total water storage across NSW was about 37% compared with 62% last year (and it is now lower) – our major water storages map below shows the volumes now held in storage.

Rainfall

Dry conditions continued across the last week with only light patchy rainfall recorded in south eastern areas of the Murray─Darling Basin. The Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting dry conditions to continue over the coming week.

The Bureau of Meteorology reports that February 2019 rainfall was below average across much of the northern Basin, with lowest on record rainfall recorded in areas of northern New South Wales and southern Queensland. Rainfall was closer to average throughout much of southern New South Wales, ACT, Victoria and South Australia.

The climate of the lower Darling is semi-arid and has one of the lowest rainfall levels in New South Wales. Average annual rainfall ranges between 220 and 280 mm. Historical records indicate that the Darling River dried up on 45 occasions between 1885 and 1960.

The map below shows rainfall for the week ending 6 March 2019.

Murray-Darling Basin rainfall map week ending 6 March 2019 (Source: Bureau of Meteorology).

According to the Bureau of Meteorology, rainfall for the two years February 2017─19 was the lowest on record for that time-frame, since 1900─1902.

The following map shows a comparison between the very wet year in 2010, and the very dry year in 2018.

Temperature 

The Bureau of Meteorology reports that February 2019 was the fourth warmest February on record for Australia. The maximum, minimum and mean temperatures were all above average.

Notably, cooler than average mean minimum temperatures were observed in the Riverland area of South Australia. Several record low minimum temperatures were observed in parts of South Australia on 14 February.

Temperatures eased across the Basin in the past week although some areas were still warm/hot. Some alpine areas experienced below zero temperatures on several occasions as autumn temperatures start to replace the heat of summer. However, the Bureau of Meteorology March to May climate outlook suggests a drier than average season and warmer than average temperature conditions are likely for the eastern states.

Maximum and minimum temperatures February 2019. Source: Bureau of Meteorology

 

Water quality

Low rainfall across the Basin can have a severe impact on water quality. Blue-green algae continues to be a major issue across the Basin. Many areas are on red-alert level. Water quality is being continuously monitored.

A red alert level warning for blue-green algae is current for parts of the Darling River downstream of Rose Isle (between Bourke and Louth) including Trevallyn, Wilcannia, Caulpaulin, Lake Wetherell, Menindee, Tolarno Station, Karoola Station, Court Nareen Station and Jamesville. Red alerts also exist for the Chifley Dam, the Macintyre River near Inverell, Barwon River at Brewarrina, Gum Bend Lake on the Lachlan River, Lake Windamere, the Murrumbidgee River downstream of Hay Weir and the Bogan River at Gongolgon.

Several sites in Victoria have algal warnings including Lake Eppalock, Hepburns Lagoon north east of Creswick, Cairn Curran Reservoir, Waranga Basin, Central Goulburn and Rochester Irrigation channels, sites in the Loddon River valley and Torrumbarry irrigation area and lagoons.

Please visit South Australia’s Water Connect site for South Australia information.

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 and the NSW Regional Algal Co-ordinating Committee to manage the risks.

More information

Salinity

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.

Due to continued low river flows, the salinity level at Burtundy in the lower Darling has been gradually rising since November 2018.

The following map shows the salinity level measured in μS/cm as at 7 March 2019 and the change in average salinity levels at measurement sites in the southern Basin.

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 (1 August 2018). 

More information

Water in major Basin storages

As the drought continues, water volumes in storages continue to fall. For example, since our last update on 26 February, Lake Hume’s volume has reduced from 29% to 25%. Other storages have also experienced a reduction to the volume of water being held.

Inflows to the Darling and its major tributaries from the north are well below average, and for some valleys, like the Namoi and Macquarie, inflows are at record lows. Menindee Lakes are below 2% capacity (12 March 2019) and no water has entered these lakes since September 2018.

Water in major Basin storages

More information

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 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 Queensland

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

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 2:  13 March 2019