Drought in Australia 2002-2009

What is a drought?
Long period of rainfall shortage.
Fact: Over a long time, Australia has three good rainfall years and three bad rainfall years out of ten.
Australia drought case study – the ‘Big Dry’ – Driest period in 125 years
Date: 2002-2009
Location: Murray-Darling Basin (MDB)- South East of the country
Details about the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB)
  • It usually provides 40% of Australia’s agricultural produce
  • The basin makes up more than 70% of Australia’s irrigated cropland and pasture
  • Is the size of France and Spain combined
  • Provides 75% of Australia’s water 
  • Home to almost 2 million people
  • In El Nino years trade winds reverse, this caused Australia to experience very high pressure. The moist arm had been felts by South America which usually would have come to Australia. This change between normal years and El Nino years is called the Southern Oscillation Index.
  • Some scientist believe climate change is behind intensifying and prolonging the El Nino experience. Evidence that is was the driest and warmest year (2002) in Australia has been collated. 
  • There used to be 19 dairy farms now there are a mere six
  • Water shortage = less agricultural produce
  • The rural suicide rate soared.
  • People in rural areas left due to the lack of water
  • Legislation was implemented e.g. car washing bans and 4-minute-long showers.
  • Farmers had to sell of cattle as they couldn’t afford straw to feed them
  • Food prices rose and Australia became reliant on imports
  • Prices of energy soared. Water bills were expected to rise by 20% in 2008.
  • Government spending increased to help farmers and small businesses cope with this scarcity.
  • Wiped 1% of Australia’s economy
  • Tourism was adversely affected.
-Grassland turned into ‘scrubland’.
  • Energy from HEP sources was reduced and more polluted methods such as carbon fuels were used
  • Loss of vegetation, wildlife, biodiversity alongside soil erosion.
  • Water quality declined and there was toxic algal outbreaks in depleted rivers, dams and lakes.
  • Increasing number of wildfires due to the intensity of the heat
  • There is a negative spiral of decline e.g. saltwater reduces causing plants and migrating birds to decline as well
The government announced a $10 billion national water management plan in 2007. It will build on work under two other organisations; the Living Murray Initiative and Australian Government water fund.
Hard Engineering
  • Lake Brewster Water Efficiency Project- it aims to improve Lake Brewster for storage on the Lachlan River in New South Wales. (building an embankment to split the lake, deepening of the channel, creation of 2 wetlands).
  • Numerous water smart projects involving smart technologies are being discussed including the Lake Brewster Water Efficient Project.
Soft Engineering
  • The government is going to control water usage – minimising the water usage in agriculture.
  • Modernising irrigation methods – adapting more accurate water meters to improve measurement and reduce over- watering and piping and lining channels to make watering methods efficient.
  • Addressing over-allocation- areas which are not viable e.g. salt-affected areas will be classed as retired and many farmers will be given support to leave the industry.
  • Reformation will take place to ensure accurate and precise equipment is available to monitor and forecast water levels. A national database will also be created to report water usage.
  • Key ecosystems, indigenous people and communities will be identified and it will be examined whether the MDB can meet and sustain the needs of these communities.
  • Research and development from The Australia Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has been key in introducing new technologies such as drought resistant plants to manage the drought, crop and pasture management technology for conserving water in different regions and Precision farming which uses technology to ensure farmers are making informed and sustainable decisions.
  • GPS are being used to make sure seeds are planted accurately to make farming efficient.

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