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Published: 28 March 2019   •   Media release

The total amount of water stored in the Murray–Darling Basin's dams has dropped below 30 per cent for the first time since May 2016 highlighting the need for all water users to plan for the possibility of reduced water availability next season.

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) head of River Operations, Andrew Reynolds, said Victoria and New South Wales had provided information to water entitlement holders concerning the impact on allocations under a range of scenarios.

"If things stay dry, Victorians with high reliability water shares in the Murray catchment are facing zero allocations at 1 July 2019. We need wet conditions to prevail for entitlement holders to reach full allocations by October," Mr Reynolds said.

"The New South Wales outlook also includes indications about the effect on allocations if dry conditions continue. In the Murrumbidgee and Murray, for example, at this stage no commencing general security allocation for 2019-20 is expected.

"Across the Basin we have 6932 gigalitres of water in storage right now, which translates to 30 per cent of capacity. This time last year storages were at 52 per cent.

"While 30 per cent storage is a concern to water managers across the Basin, the southern basin is in better shape than the north. What is widely regarded as the southern drought reserve, Dartmouth Dam currently holds just over one third of the water held in storage in the entire Basin.

"In the northern Basin, the dams are at only 11 per cent capacity, with 569 gigalitres available of a possible 5198 gigalitres.

"Again, the reserves in northern dams themselves vary—Lake Wyangala on the Lachlan, for example, is holding 33 per cent with 400 gigalitres while Split Rock Reservoir on the Namoi is about 4 per cent full with 14 gigalitres.

"We don't know how long the drought will last, and continue to plan for the possibility that storage levels will be a concern into next year.

"It is usual for reserves to be drawn down every year at the end of the irrigation season, with the expectation that water availability will increase as winter and spring rains top-up the storages.

"In the past year those rains have not eventuated or have been very limited. The last time we had similar conditions was in autumn 2016, when Basin-wide storage levels bottomed out at 28 per cent before recovering to 84 per cent six months later following widespread rain in the southern Basin. At the time, however, dam levels in the north remained relatively low and have continued to decline as widespread drought persists.

"With dry conditions expected through autumn, we're anticipating people will carry-over water where they can to shore up their supply into next year, and in the Murray we will continue to notify the state water authorities about the availability of water as they consider their allocation position for next season.

"We're keeping a constant eye on what's happening and we're working with the state governments, the Bureau of Meteorology and local communities to make sure we have the best possible information to guide water management as the year progresses."

Murray–Darling Basin storage levels are updated fortnightly on the MDBA website.


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