Part of a waterways network that irrigates the south-east, the Murray currently holds 940 gigalitres of water, of which just 350 are needed to meet the requirements of three states. However, officials say, most of the river’s water is lost through evaporation and seepage before reaching urban centres. One thousand gigalitres are needed to transport the 350 along the river.
In the first three months of this year, the Murray’s water levels were the lowest on record and the next three months could be just as grim, according to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, which administers the river. The basin, named for the two biggest rivers that join to form its catchment area, now holds only 18% of its water capacity.
Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, is home to 1.1 million people. “We do need to ensure that we have a range of secure water sources for Adelaide and other towns along the Murray,” said Rob Freeman, head of the basin authority. While saying he could not guarantee that critical human needs would always be secure, Freeman added: “It’s important that we don’t panic here.”
Water officials are contemplating difficult choices regarding the state’s wetland habitats, while farmers are facing new limits on the amount of water they can extract from the river basin. No relief is in sight without a break in the drought — when “above-average rainfall occurs for a sustained period" – they say.
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