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Murray-Darling Basin Drought Continues To Bite

Murray-Darling Basin Commission

Record Murray-Darling Basin drought continues to bite

The worst drought on record is continuing to bite hard throughout Australia's food bowl. That's the core message of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission's latest two-monthly Drought Update issued today.

Speaking at Hume Dam today, Chief Executive Dr Wendy Craik AM said very hot weather arrived early in November, with temperatures up to 6 degrees above average for much of the southern part of the Basin.

She said total Murray storage was now around 550 GL lower than this time last year and less than 1 per cent of divertible water was available for critical environmental watering to protect endangered species and habitats.

"At the end of November total storage was around 1885 GL - the lowest for this time of year since 1940. At this time last year, storage totalled 2435 GL," Dr Craik said.

While there had been good rainfall in November, higher temperatures, evaporation and lower runoff kept inflows well below average. Inflows over the 2006/07 water year were just 55% of the previous minimum on record. The two years to the end of November were the lowest two year inflows on record.

"Now that summer demands are rising, we need to increase flow rates across the river system by preferentially drawing on downstream storages - first Lake Victoria, then Hume and lastly Dartmouth Reservoir. Our overall aim will be to supply water to users as efficiently as possible, while having as much water as possible stored in Dartmouth Reservoir at the end of the coming irrigation season," Dr Craik said.

Dr Michael Coughlan, Head of the Bureau of Meteorology's National Climate Centre, said the La Niña event was now well established and was starting to have its effects felt in Australia.

"The chances of exceeding the median rainfall for summer are between 60 and 70% in a large area extending from southeast Queensland across both the northern inland and east of NSW," he said. "However temperatures are likely to be higher than average resulting in higher evaporation."

Dr Craik said that while water quality across much of the Murray River was high, the continuing drought increased the threat of algal blooms and of higher salinity, particularly in South Australia. In addition, the increased risk of acid sulphate soil reactions in disconnected wetlands will be closely monitored.

"However, while flows, river levels and some weirs pools will be lower than normal, much of the river will experience conditions similar to last year," she said. "There is still plenty of Murray River to enjoy for recreation. For example we expect Lake Hume to remain about 5 metres higher than last year's levels up to mid January."


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