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Murray–Darling Basin drought update

 

11 February 2020.

Drought update masthead image

The Murray─Darling Basin has been in drought for some time. Drought is a significant issue for the Basin and continues to impact its environment, industries and communities.

This update provides high-level information on the status of the drought in the Basin, with links to more detailed reports and external websites. This update does not replace any state government alerts and updates.

Key updates 

  • Rainfall was recorded across most of the Basin during the past fortnight
  • Some storage levels in the north rebounded slightly due to rain, while southern storage levels fell
  • Threats to water quality persist, including contamination from bushfire debris
  • This fortnight’s Spotlight is on February rain in the Basin

Rainfall and river flows

Rainfall over the past fortnight has been variable, with moderate to heavy rain across most of the Basin.

While the heaviest falls occurred outside of the Basin along the east coast, rainfall within the Basin has provided a reprieve from drought conditions for many regional areas. The volume of rain isn’t enough to end the drought, but it will boost flows in many rivers, lifting falling storage levels in some of the dams depleted by prolonged dry conditions.

In the past week (ending 11 February) the Condamine River catchment recorded the highest falls—up to 200 mm in the upper reaches around Toowoomba. These heavy falls have resulted in moderate flood warnings for the Condamine, Balonne, Moonie, Weir and Macintyre Rivers. A minor flood warning was issued for the Paroo River in the far west. Rainfall has been moderate in many southern regions, with most recording between 5–30mm. Rainfall in the Canberra region topped 100 mm in the Brindabella Ranges assisting efforts to bring several fires under control.

The Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting continuing rain over the coming days, with falls expected to be higher in the south-eastern ranges.

Rainfall totals for weeks ending February 2 and 9, 2020

Murray–Darling Basin rainfall for the weeks ending 2 and 9 February 2020. Source: Bureau of Meteorology.

Temperature 

Wet weather brought slightly cooler temperatures to most of the Basin, with average maximum and minimum temperatures falling a few degrees compared to previous weeks.

Mean minimum and maximum temperatures for week ending 9 January 2020

Mean maximum and minimum temperatures for the week ending 9 February 2020. Source: Bureau of Meteorology.

Looking back at January, maximum and minimum temperatures were predominantly above average, with areas of north-eastern Basin catchments setting the highest minimum temperature deciles on record.

Maximum and minimum temperature deciles for January 2020

Maximum and minimum temperature deciles for January 2020. Source: Bureau of Meteorology

More information

Water quality

(For fortnight ending 7 February 2020)

Water quality is currently declining in many catchments. Bushfires in several Basin catchments have the potential to affect water quality as rain washes ash and sediment into waterways. The extent and timing of any impacts depends on the location of the fire and the volume and intensity of rain that falls.

Bushfire water quality risks - Upper Murray & Lake Hume:

  • Potential water quailty risks to Upper Murray and Lake Hume areas, and other fire affected catchments from bushfire contamination as mobilised by rainfall events.

Despite a high threat of contamination in the upper Murray region, bushfires are not currently impacting River Murray operations. The MDBA and state authorities are continuing to monitor bushfire activity and water quality across the Basin. For information on changes to water quality status, see the water quality page of our website.

New South Wales sites on RED alert for blue-green algae:

  • Barwon River downstream of Brewarrina Weir
  • Bogan River at Gongolgon
  • Burrendong Dam and Macquarie River downstream of the Dam, near Wellington
  • Chifley Dam near Bathurst
  • Copeton Dam near Inverell
  • Darling River at Wilcannia, Louth, Burtundy and Ellerslie
  • Lake Albert in Wagga Wagga
  • Lake Cargelligo Outlet at Lake Creek
  • Lake Inverell
  • Lake Wyangan North and South, at Griffith
  • Macintyre River at Boggabilla and Goondiwindi
  • Menindee Lakes at Lake Wetherell
  • Murrumbidgee River at Redbank Weir
  • Namoi River downstream of Keepit Dam
  • Pindari Dam near Ashford
  • Windamere Dam near Cudgegong
  • Wyangala Dam

Victorian sites on HIGH alert for blue-green algae:

  • Goulburn Weir-Nagambie Lakes at Turner Island
  • Gum Lagoon near Gunbower
  • Lake Eppalock near Derrinal
  • National Channel No. 4 Lagoon
  • Tullaroop Reservoir near Majorca

Reduced inflows and stream flows have impacted water quality at many locations throughout the Basin, and conditions are expected to deteriorate as summer continues.

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.

More information

Salinity

Over the past fortnight most measurement sites in the River Murray System recorded figures around the long-term average. Sites with substantial deviations were Red Cliffs (down 40%) and Goolwa Barrage (up nearly 60%).

The following map shows the average salinity level (measured in μS/cm) for the week ending 5 January 2020 and the change compared to the average since 1 August 2019.

Map of salinity levels in the Murray-Darling Basin

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 Basin storages

Rainfall in some northern catchments over the past few weeks has improved storage levels as inflows are captured in dams. Several storages have rebounded slightly, with small percentage increases (1–2%) in Split Rock, Copeton, Keepit and Chaffey Dams.

Despite these small improvements, the total volume of water in Basin storages continued to decline due to low rainfall in southern catchments. Key southern storages including Hume Dam, Dartmouth Dam and Lake Victoria have dropped between 1 and 5%.

Please note that due to the time it takes for rainfall to flow into dams, and timeframes to access water information for state-operated storages, the graphic below does not reflect the results of rainfall over the past week. This information will become available in future drought updates. 

Water storage levels in the Murray-Darling Basin

Water in Basin storages as reported at 5 February 2020.

More information

Spotlight – February rain in the Basin

The month of February began with rain falling across the Basin, from South Australia to Queensland. For some areas the downpour meant more rain has fallen so far this year than all of 2019, and in other areas it was a welcome shower to break the heat and boost morale.

This variability in rainfall is typical of the Basin’s climate. While the rain isn’t enough to end the drought, it will go a long way to boost flows in many of the Basin’s rivers and start to turn around the storage levels in some of the dams in the northern Basin that have been seriously depleted through lack of rain.

In the River Murray, we are starting to see some stream flows following the rain but given the dry state of the catchments there’s been limited runoff so far. Falls in the catchment above Hume Dam ranged from 0 to 23mm over the weekend of 8–9 February and a further 25mm roughly is forecast to 14 February.

Minor flooding has been recorded in the Paroo, Macintyre, Condamine and Moonie rivers in southern Queensland.

It is still too early to see whether all the storages will receive water or the renewed flows will be sufficient to connect the rivers—that will depend on river flows and how much rain is soaked into the ground.

We’re hearing from our state water authorities that between 100 and 200mm are needed to make up the soil moisture deficit in parts of the Basin.

 

Posted by Murray-Darling Basin Authority on Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Flows at Collarenebri in the Barwon River after many months of dry

Find out more

 

Bureau of Meteorology

NSW water operations

Queensland water operations

 

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.

Updated: 11 Feb 2020