Lower Darling

Lower Darling 
Drought Stage

Stage 2 - Emerging drought

Stage 2 recovering - de-escalated from Stage 4 critical on 23 March 2020 and from Stage 3 severe on 1 May 2020.

Storage Level
  • Menindee Lakes is at 19.5% (337 GL) compared to just 16 GL or less than 1% full on 1 July 2019, but down from 27% in July 2020.
  • 30% general security allocations announced on 1 July 2020 and full town, domestic and stock and high security allocations.
  • Zero general security allocations for most of 2019/20 until 30% announced on 1 May 2020.
  • All carryover suspended until restrictions lifted on 30 March 2020.
  • Last previous general security allocation (prior to May 2020) made in 1 July 2017.
  • Reduced allocations announced for high priority (town, domestic and stock) and high security (permanent plantings) needs were announced on 1 July 2019. These were increased to full (100%) allocations on 1 April 2020.
  • Rainfall and restrictions on access to river and overland flows across the entire Northern Basin from February to end of March 2020 resulted in over 670 GL entering Menindee Lakes by the of June 2020 - the flows began arriving from 10 March and were the first substantial natural inflows into the Lakes for three years. Flows from this event were completed by June.
  • Temporary water restriction was put in place on 4 December 2018 in the Lower Darling limiting water extraction to high priority needs - only lifted on 30 March 2020.
  • Four block banks were constructed in river in 2018 to pool water for stock and permanent plantings. These were removed in March 2020 to allow releases from the Lakes to flow along the length of the Lower Darling. The release commenced on 26 March 2020 and flows reached the junction with the Murray River around 21 April 2020. The size and timing of the release was designed to minimise the impacts on water quality and fish.
  • Following the return to normal minimum releases of 200-350 ML/day as required under the water sharing plan, additional water by the environmental water holder has been released since September 2020 and will continue to mid-January 2021 to increase flows to stimulate fish breeding and recovery.
  • Pipeline from Murray River to supply Broken Hill began operation in April 2019.
  • Water carting was provided for domestic water for some landholders not connected to town supplies 2019/20. A rebate of $2,000 was also provided to landholders in 2020 who normally accessed domestic water from the river.
  • DPI Fisheries installed aerators at four locations and three were installed by OzFish and local community in 2019/20. These were removed as the Lower Darling releases progressed down the river.
  • In September 2019, 783 large adult fish were relocated to more permanent water.
  • Valley based technical groups, including government and community representatives, established in the Lower Darling to advise on strategic interventions and priority actions for fish management, including the size and timing of releases from Menindee Lakes from late March.
  • Critical Water Advisory Panel operating.
  • Between December 2018 and January 2019 there were three incidences of massive fish deaths (estimated at over 1 million fish) in the  Lower Darling. These were the result of not enough flow in the river, poor water quality, and high temperatures followed by a sudden drop in temperatures which caused hypoxic (low oxygen) levels in the refuge pools.
  • Small number of deaths in November 2019 and at Wentworth in January 2020.
  • Fish deaths occurred around 12 March 2020 as a result of the poor quality of water at the front of the flow entering Lake Wetherell. Water quality improved as more water entered the lakes.
  • No fish deaths occurred as a result of the managed release from the Lakes into the Lower Darling.
  • Normal regulated river operations re-commenced in April 2020, with all block banks removed and enough resource available to supply landholders and maintain connectivity to the Murray until at least January 2022.
  • However, no significant flows have entered the lakes since end of June 2020, and the system will draw down significantly through the heat of summer unless the northern wet season delivers significant new inflows.
  • Significant inflows are required into the Menindee system before the current 30% general security allocation for Lower Darling water users can be increased.