Thursday, April 16, 2009

Australia's largest river close to running dry

The Guardian (UK): Australia's biggest river is running so low that Adelaide, the country's fifth-largest city, could run out of water in the next two years. The Murray river is part of a network of waterways that irrigates the south-eastern corner of Australia, but after six years of severe drought, the worst dry spell ever, its slow moving waters are now almost stagnant.

Water levels in the Murray in the first three months of this year were the lowest on record and the government agency that administers the river, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), said the next three months could be just as grim. With meteorologists predicting another year of below-average rainfall, the MDBA, is bracing for worse to come.

"We do need to ensure that we have a range of secure water sources for Adelaide and other towns along the Murray," agency head, Rob Freeman said. But the MDBA faces an uphill battle, as the drought has drained water supplies across the south-eastern corner of Australia. The Murray-Darling basin named after the two biggest rivers that join to form the south-eastern catchment area now holds just 18% of its water capacity.

Although Freeman said he could not guarantee critical human water needs would always be secure, he added "It's important that we don't panic here." Not even torrential rains, which flooded Queensland and NSW in the past month, have managed to rejuvenate the Murray. Instead of rolling south, the waters seeped into the flat, parched earth, scorched by the long dry spell, the most severe of which has hit in the past three years....

Cliffs along the Murray River, near Younghusband, South Australia, with a houseboat on the right and an Australian pelican in the foreground. Photo taken by EN Wiki user Scharks.

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