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Grim prospects for Australian river system as drought bites:official

by Staff Writers
Sydney (AFP) Sept 2, 2008
Rivers in Australia's most important farming region are in critical condition thanks to the long-running drought, with no sign of an end to the 'big dry,' officials said Tuesday.

The Murray-Darling Basin Commission, which monitors the east coast region that accounts for some 40 percent of the nation's farming production, said the level of water entering the Murray River was at a record low.

Winter inflows were at their equal fifth-lowest in 117 years of records while in the two years to August, water entering the system was at a record low after persistent poor rainfall over the past seven years.

"We're continuing to establish new records that we don't particularly wish to establish," the commission's chief executive Wendy Craik told reporters.

"There's really no relief in sight. I think we can say the drought's continuing to worsen."

Australia's three longest rivers, the Murray, the Darling and the Murrumbidgee, form the Murray Darling Basin which runs from Queensland state in the north, through New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia states to the south.

The Bureau of Meteorology has said the system needs several months of torrential rain to return the rivers to health, but that such a weather pattern was not on the horizon.

"The outlook for the Murray system remains very serious," Craik said an earlier statement.

"Critical human needs can now be met through to next winter but water availability for irrigation remains very low."

Drought and irrigation have so depleted the system that freshwater lower lakes at the mouth of the Murray are turning to acid while a lack of flow along the waterways is causing headaches for farmers and environmental damage.

"Things are getting to a very critical stage with environmental deterioration and degradation right along the system and, of course, irrigators and communities are suffering as well," she said.

Craik said the fear was that after poor winter rains, spring will bring rising temperatures which further reduce water levels through evaporation.

"This drought has the fingerprints of climate change all over it," she said. "So chances are, we might be in for this for a while for the future I think."

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Scientists Find More Oil Fissures In Lake Baikal's Bedrock
Novosibirsk, Russia (RIA Novosti) Sep 02, 2008
Scientists have found two more cracks in the bedrock of Siberia's Lake Baikal from which crude oil seeps into the lake, bringing the total to three, an expedition member said on Tuesday.

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