U.S. Water News Online
CANBERRA, Australia -- Australia's worst drought on record
got tougher recently when the prime minister announced there won't be
enough water for irrigation along the country's largest river system
unless there's significant rainfall soon.
Prime Minister John Howard, releasing a new report on the health
of the Murray-Darling rivers, said the dry spell was "unprecedentedly
dangerous" for Australian farmers and the economy as a whole.
"If it doesn't rain in sufficient volume over the next six to
eight weeks, there will be no water allocations for irrigation
purposes in the basin" until May 2008, he told reporters in Canberra.
The affected states would first need to agree to the ban, however,
which a government weather forecaster predicted may be unnecessary
thanks to expected above-average rainfall over the next three months.
The Murray-Darling river basin spans five Australian states and
accounts for about 85 percent of the nation's irrigation supply. The
waterway generates around 40 percent of Australia's farm produce and
supplies drinking water for the South Australia state capital,
But the country's prolonged drought has reduced the rivers to a
trickle, crippling Australia's farming sector and forcing many cities
and towns to enact drastic water restrictions as reservoirs dry up.
Howard said there would be water only for "critical urban
supplies" plus farmers' domestic use and watering stock.
"The impact that this is going to have on industry, on the
horticultural industry and crops like grapes and stone fruits and
other primary industries that rely on irrigation including the dairy
industry, is very critical indeed," Howard said.
National Farmers' Federation chief executive Ben Fargher said
thousands of farmers could lose their citrus, almond and olives trees
if they cannot be watered this year -- losing production for more
than five years.
Climatologist Blair Trewin, of the Australian Bureau of
Meteorology, said the basin's northeast had more than a 60 percent
chance of above-average rainfall before June. The southern part was
likely to experience average rain in the same period.
"We think it's extremely unlikely that this year is going to be
anywhere near as bad as last year," Trewin said of the extraordinary
drought. "It looks quite encouraging, particularly for later this
Howard said it was too early to estimate the economic impact of an
"We know already that the drought has taken three-quarters to one
percent off our growth," he said. "The longer it goes on, the harder
In January, Howard announced an $8.3 billion program to overhaul
thousands of miles of irrigation pipes along the Murray-Darling river
Under the plan, the federal government would also assume
regulatory control of the rivers from the four states that currently
administer irrigation rights. All states but one -- Victoria -- have
agreed to the plan.
National control of the water is contingent on all states being
part of the plan. An irrigation ban could not be forced on Victoria.
Victoria Premier Steve Bracks said he would not budge on his
refusal to join the national scheme, despite the looming crisis.
Neither the state nor the federal government has been willing to make
public their differences over the plan.
Return to the
U.S. Water News' archives page
Return to the U.S. Water
Use a comma to separate e-mail addresses:
Hi, I thought you might like to read this article.