Australian Drought Expected to Worsen and Alter River Basin Ecology

Source: Alex Schrader
From Reuters:
Australia’s worst drought in 100 years, which has already cost the nation $20 billion dollars since 2002, is likely to become even more severe and cause permanent ecological changes in the country’s breadbasket, the Murray-Darling river basin, government officials said.
Alexandrina Council which manages the environment at the Murray mouth and lower lakes region says emergency water flows are needed or the river system will soon be beyond repair. Neil Schillabeer, from the Lower Lakes and Coorong Infrastructure Committee, says:
"There is a need for probably 200-250 gigalitres of water in the very immediate future to solve the problems we've got there right now. That doesn't seem to have eventuated. Our state Premier hasn't been able to negotiate those sort of volumes of water for the lakes."
John Brumby, the Premiere of Victoria said last week:
...some commentators [have] called for water to be flushed down the Murray River to save the Lower Lakes in South Australia. But from where? It is estimated that about 1200billion litres of water would be needed: 370 billion litres initially to fill Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert to a minimum level, then another 800billion litres to maintain water levels throughout summer when evaporation losses are extreme.But farmers in Victoria have a zero per cent allocation in the Goulburn and Murray irrigation districts. And there is no additional water available in the upper Murray without taking water for essential human needs away from rural communities.
The zero percent allocation that John Brumby refers to is related to Australia's system of water management. Farmers have allocated rights to draw water from the Murray-Darling river system. These rights may be bought and sold. So a farmer who requires 100 000 litres of water per year for irrigation would need to acquire permits to draw 100 000 litres of water from the system. In a drought year, all users are allocated a percentage of the water to which they hold rights, so that there is at least some water available to all users. Due to the extended drought, this year farmers in Goulburn and Murray districts will recieve 0% of their allocations.

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