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Murray–Darling Basin drought update

9 October 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 detailed reports and external websites. This update does not replace any state government alerts and updates.

The Bureau of Meteorology climate outlook for September to November 2019 indicates a drier than average spring is likely for most of Australia. This is being driven by positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) conditions, which often result in below average rainfall for much of central and southern Australia during winter-spring. The positive IOD is likely to be the dominant climate driver for Australia during the next three months.

Updates on environmental watering activity during winter and spring 2019 are available from the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office website.

Rainfall and river flows

The past fortnight has seen persistent rainfall around the Southern, Eastern and Northern ranges of the Basin, although the total volume has not been significant. The only notable rainfall was in Queensland, which included 32mm at Oakington in the upper East Darling Downs. Most of NSW and the central area of the Basin received no rainfall. Dry conditions are forecast to continue.

BOM rainfall totals, October 2019

Murray–Darling Basin rainfall for the weeks ending 1 and 7 October 2019. Source: Bureau of Meteorology

Temperature 

Temperatures across most of the Basin were above average during September, with parts of New South Wales and Queensland experiencing temperatures very much above average. Conversely, southern areas of the Basin recorded minimum temperatures well below average during the same period.

Forecasts suggest a dry and hot spring with early summer conditions likely.

BOM minimum and maximum temperature decile maps

Average maximum temperatures for September 2019.  Source: Bureau of Meteorology

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 with blue-green algae red alert:

  • Lachlan River at Corrong

Victorian sites with blue-green algae red alert:

  • Tullaroop Reservoir

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 water quality risks. These measures are expected to remain during the drought.

The risk of fish deaths due to drying pools, predicted high temperatures and potential water quality issues as warmer weather arrives, saw the relocation of native fish from the Darling River at Menindee, to downstream sections of the Lower Darling that offer a more secure habitat and provide the best chance for their survival. The NSW Department of Primary Industries undertook this relocation over two weeks to rescue as many fish as possible. These fish will be able to migrate upstream when Darling River flows increase.

More information

Salinity

The following map shows the average salinity level (measured in μS/cm) for the week ending 2 October2019 and the change compared to the average since 1 August 2019. Salinity levels have fluctuated slightly over the past fortnight, however there have been no significant changes recorded at any individual measurement sites.

River Murray Salinity Measurement Map

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

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.

More information

Water in major Basin storages

Overall storage levels across the Basin fell over the past fortnight as dry conditions continued. As indicated in the updated map below, most storages in the northern Basin are at critically low levels, with many in single digit percentages.

A lack of rainfall has caused inflows into the upper tributaries of the Murray River to recede. Water transfers from Dartmouth Dam to Hume Dam and downstream have continued to bolster Lake Victoria’s storage level in order to meet increasing demand in South Australia over summer.

Murray-Darling Basin storage levels

Water in major storages as reported at 2 October 2019.

More information

Spotlight – Supporting native fish through a hot and dry summer

The mass fish death events in the summer of 2018–19 are a visible warning of the significant pressure experienced by native fish in the Basin, particularly during drought and hot, dry summers,like the one we are expecting this year.

Governments’ support for native fish

Basin governments have been working hard to mitigate the risk of further fish deaths, however more fish death events are expected if current and forecasted conditions continue this summer. As we face this challenging reality, together we are working towards short and long term solutions to protect our native fish.

Basin governments have prepared an emergency response plan for the coming summer, to ensure actions are coordinated and resources available to respond quickly to address risks to fish populations. We have a range of new responses to draw on and a number of tools to rapidly mitigate threats — adding oxygen to water using aerators, relocating fish to refuges, adding water to increase and improve water quality in refuges and early warning systems are all options.

Communities can get involved

Communities have always cared for and protected the health and resilience of their rivers. Communities can play a key role in giving native fish the best chance to survive, including by reporting river conditions and mass fish deaths to their relevant state agency.

If you want to report on fish deaths please use the following contact numbers

  • New South Wales Fishers Watch hotline: 1800 043 536
  • Queensland Department of Environment and Science: 1300 130 372
  • Victoria Environmental Protection Authority pollution hotline: 1300 372 842
  • South Australia Fishwatch hotline: 1800 065 522
  • Australian Capital Territory Access Canberra: 13 22 81

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.

Updated: 10 Oct 2019