People in towns and cities across Australia see the impact of drought on television or Facebook and empathise.
However, for those living in the northern Murray–Darling Basin and along Australia’s third longest river, the Darling River, drought is a harsh reality they are living every day.
For these families and communities drought means more than hand watering the garden and timing showers, it means making wholesale changes to how they live. They may be trucking water, hand feeding stock, and they may be driving to town to shower their children.
Of course, when there’s not enough water in our rivers and dams to meet people’s needs there is an impact on the environment as well. The recent fish deaths in the lower Darling are an example of this, along with the numerous algal blooms in those stretches of the river that still have water.
People faced with the daily reality of drought are angry and disappointed in what they see as mismanagement of the system. They’re looking to governments, and the Murray–Darling Basin Authority, to do more.
I recognise that people attribute much of the blame for the current dry conditions and low water availability on a range of factors like increased development, non-compliance upstream, as well as on the current river management rules.
While these all play a role, the hard truth, as we continue through what is likely to remain a long hot summer, is that the northern basin is in the grip of a prolonged drought with much of the region missing out on the heavy rains that were experienced along the coast. Storages across the northern basin are at 20 per cent capacity. The Darling River is dry above Menindee and below it.
While the basin plan has been painted by some as part of the problem, it is actually our best chance for achieving a sustainable and more resilient Darling River.
It is not possible to drought-proof the basin, but the basin plan can help us prepare for future droughts by holding water for the environment separate from water for irrigators, and increasing system health so it can recover from drought better and more quickly.
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