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Murray–Darling Basin drought update

21 May 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 detail. This update does not replace state government information and alerts.

Streamflow during the first quarter of 2019 was below average across more than 70% of the Basin, with more than 75% receiving below average rainfall. More than 60% of major Basin storages remained at less than half of their full capacity over the same period, with most continuing to decline.

Rainfall

A cold front and associated low pressure system moved across the southern Murray-Darling Basin early this week and delivered welcome rainfall over the southern ranges and the wheat belt regions of southern New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. In southern New South Wales widespread falls between 10 and 25 mm were recorded, including 23 mm at Albury airport and 12 mm at Lake Victoria.

Rainfall was generally heavier across Victoria, particularly in northern, central and western areas where 51 mm was recorded at Daylesford and 45 mm at both Charlton and St Arnaud. Falls were also widespread in South Australia’s lower Murray–Darling Basin region. Murray Bridge received 25 mm of rain, 29 mm fell at Meningie and 48 mm at Mt Compass in the Mount Lofty ranges.

Murray-Darling Basin rainfall deciles for the week ending 15 May 2019. (Source: Bureau of Meteorology)

Temperature 

The following images show the mean maximum and minimum temperatures in Australia for the week ending 18 May 2019.

 

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 Lake Inverell
  • The Darling River at Wilcannia and Pooncarie
  • Pindari Dam
  • Bogan River at Gongolgon
  • Mannus Lake (south-west of Tumbarumba)

Victorian sites with blue-green algae warnings include: 

  • Lake Eppalock
  • Cairn Curran Reservoir
  • Waranga Basin
  • Kow Swamp
  • Lake Nagambie/Goulburn Weir - Turner Island Backwaters East & West - near Kirwans Bridge
  • Hepburns Lagoon
  • West Loddon Water District
  • Reedy Lake (First and Middle)
  • Tullaroop Reservoir
  • Normanville Water District
  • East Loddon Water District
  • Central Goulburn Irrigation Area channels

  • Loddon Valley Irrigation Area channels and East/West Loddon Water Districts

  • Rochester Irrigation Area channels

  • Torrumbarry Irrigation Area (Loddon River Kerang Weir Pool to the confluence of the Little Murray River)

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

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 measured at many points in the River Murray have risen steady, while others fluctuate.

The following map shows the average salinity level (measured in μS/cm) for the week ending 21 May 2019 and the percentage change compared to three month average measurements.

 

 

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). It does not show the difference between the current salinity measurement and the previously reported salinity measurement.

More information

Water in major Basin storages

As the drought continues, the total volume of water held in most storages across dams in the Basin continues to fall, while some storages in northern regions have held steady due to moderate rainfall.

Inflows to the Darling and its major tributaries from the north are well below average, and for some valleys inflows are at record lows. Menindee Lakes and Lake Keepit are currently 1% of capacity, and no water has entered Menindee lakes since September 2018.

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 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 6:  21 May 2019