Australia Confronts Millennial Drought

Officials with the Murray-Darling river basin commission say that the drought gripping more than half of Australia’s farmlands could be the worst in 1,000 years. The drought has already lasted more than five years—longer than anything observed in the century since comparable records were first kept. It offers a stark preview of water shortages under global warming.

Lack of winter rain has translated into dramatically reduced inflows into the Murray-Darling river basin which constitutes the heartland of Australia’s agriculture. During the past five months, the Murray River has received an inflow of less than 600 billion liters. On an annualized basis, that’s about 13 percent of the “normal” average inflow of about 11 trillion liters.

If the drought continues another year, human settlements along the river could run out of water, prompting the government to begin to draw up emergency plans. Adelaide, with about 1 million inhabitants, derives 40 percent of its drinking water from the Murray River.