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Murray–Darling Basin drought update

4 June 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 detail. This update does not replace state government information and alerts.

For the first time in months, storage volumes in the southern Basin increased slightly as recent rain makes its way into storages. However, storages in the northern Basin remain extremely low and without further rain across the Basin, both northern and southern Basin storage volumes may continue to decline.


Rainfall for the week ending 29th May 2019 was widespread over the southern Murray─Darling Basin with significant totals recorded along the Victorian and NSW Alps, including the Murray, Goulburn and Murrumbidgee river catchments. Unfortunately, little or no rain fell in the northern Basin.

Southern Basin rainfall included 102mm recorded at Mt Buffalo, Victoria. River catchments close to Mt Buffalo include the Ovens, King, Kiewa and Mitta Mitta that are all tributaries of the Murray. Good falls – up to 50mm at Tumbarumba – fell across the NSW Riverina and the south-west slopes of the Great Dividing Range.

Although just outside the Basin (by only a few kilometres), Perisher Valley in NSW’s Snowy Mountains recorded 135mm of rain and all snowfields have experienced good snowfalls during the latter half of May.  


Murray─Darling Basin rainfall deciles for the week ending 29 May 2019. Source: Bureau of Meteorology


Basin temperatures continued to cool as autumn concluded. The following images show the mean maximum and minimum temperatures in Australia for the week ending 1 June 2019. Cold temperatures across alpine areas combined with southerly weather systems resulted in snow falling across the Southern Alps.


Maximum and minimum temperature deciles for week ending 1 June 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 on red alert for blue-green algae include:

  • Macintyre River at Lake Inverell
  • The Darling River at Wilcannia
  • The Darling River at Pooncarie
  • Pindari Dam
  • Bogan River at Gongolgon
  • Wyangala junction (Lachlan River & Sandy Creek)

  • Lake Windamere

  • Lake Copeton

Victorian sites with blue-green algae warnings include:

  • Lake Eppalock
  • Cairn Curran Reservoir
  • Waranga Basin
  • Lake Nagambie/Goulburn Weir - Turner Island
  • Tullaroop Reservoir

  • Normanville Water District

  • Lower Loddon River (Fernihurst Weir to Little Murray River including Twelve Mile Creek)

  • Central Goulburn Irrigation Area channels (7, 8 & 9 systems)

  • Loddon Valley Irrigation Area channels and East/West Loddon Water Districts

  • Rochester Irrigation Area channels

Releases on behalf of environmental water holders on the Border Rivers (NSW/Queensland) and Gwydir River, are continuing to move downstream. The flows continue to provide environmental benefit, recharging parched waterholes, wetlands and landscapes. More information can be found on the MDBA website and Commonwealth Environmental Water Holders website.

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 risks.

More information


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.

Most southern Basin salinity levels have remained steady or have lowered in the last few weeks, although six measurement sites have registered increases to average salinity. The following map shows the average salinity level (measured in μS/cm) for the week ending 6 May 2019 and the change compared to the average since August 2018.


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.

More information

Water in major Basin storages

The trend of falling storage volumes was reversed in the last fortnight with active storage increasing by 32GL as a result of good rainfall in the southern Basin.

Lake Victoria storage increased by 16GL to 240 GL (35% volume). Hume, Dartmouth and Blowering storage volumes all increased slightly, while Burrinjuck and Wyangala fell slightly.

In the northern Basin, storages continue to be very low with the volume for many storages now single digit percentages.

Flows resulting from significant rain in late March have continued to move steadily downstream along the Warrego and Paroo systems. Follow-up rainfall helped the Warrego flow reach the Darling River. The flow just downstream of the Warrego-Darling junction at Louth NSW increased to 950 ML/day. It remains unclear how much, if any of the flow will reach the Menindee Lakes. If it does, this volume is likely to be small and while positive, will have little impact on the conditions of the lakes and the lower Darling. 

Water in MDBA major storages

More information

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.

Issue 7  4 June 2019