Australian Drought Expected to Worsen and Alter River Basin Ecology

Australia’s worst drought in 100 years, which has already cost the nation $20 billion dollars since 2002, is likely to become even more severe and cause permanent ecological changes in the country’s breadbasket, the Murray-Darling river basin, government officials said. Rice, grapes, and other irrigated crops will be hit hard by the parched June inflows in the basin, which are the lowest in a century, as well as by the 60-70 percent chance of below-average rainfall in the next ten years. Wheat, which relies on rainfall at specific times rather than irrigation, will do better, and due to autumn showers, wheat harvests this year may double the meager 10 million tons of the last two years. And farmers are proving themselves flexible: By switching to more efficient watering systems, they kept last year’s grape harvest up, despite the drought.