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Published: 04 February 2009   •   Media release

That's the stark message in the Murray–Darling Basin Authority's (MDBA) latest drought update released today.

Chief Executive Mr Rob Freeman said this was disappointing as November and December had looked promising with lower temperatures and higher rainfall.

"In addition, rainfall across the higher yielding Victorian Alps and Snowy Mountains &mdsah; the region from which a substantial proportion of the Murray system inflows are normally derived — is continuing its below average pattern of the past few years," he said.

"The northern half of the Basin received some good rainfall in November and December and even some flooding along sections of the Peel and Namoi Rivers. But the total volume of water was fairly small and after dissipating across the lower Namoi floodplain, only about 40 GL reached the Barwon River.

Mr Freeman said the MDBA's total active (useable water) storage was now 1,470 GL or 16 per cent of capacity, slightly higher than at the end of January 2008, but well below the January long term average of 5,400 GL.

The recent hot weather and lower than normal flows, has increased the risk of algal blooms and aquatic plant growth along the river. High water temperatures have also increased the stress on fish populations, and resulted in three fish kills in shallow anabranches and channels along the mid-Murray.

Mr Freeman said the prolonged water shortage across the Murray system was continuing to cause severe environmental impacts to riverine and floodplain ecosystems. Low river levels have kept many wetlands and billabongs disconnected from the river for several years, impacting on waterbird communities, river red gum and black box trees.

"The Lower Lakes remain in a critical state, with record low water levels, high salinity and the ongoing risk of acidification. The water level in Lake Albert is decreasing at a slower rate only because of the water we are pumping into it from Lake Alexandrina," he said.

"The immediate prospects are not good as only about 10 per cent of Murray system inflows normally occur between February and May and the latest rainfall outlook from the Bureau of Meteorology shows only neutral conditions across the Basin for the next three months.

"We need a sustained period of above average rainfall during the coming autumn and winter months for inflows to recover toward the long term average."

Mr Freeman said the prospects for irrigation in 2009–10 would depend substantially on future rainfall and system inflows, though enough water would be carried over to meet critical human needs in 2009–10.

Media contact: Sam Leone, phone (02) 6279 0141

Photo: Arthur Mostead

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