Australia & New Zealand: Water deficits to remain intense in Tasmania

23 July 2019

THE BIG PICTURE
The 12-month forecast through March 2020 indicates severe to exceptional water deficits in Tasmania and in small pockets along the southeastern shore of mainland Australia from the Eyre Peninsula past Adelaide to the border of New South Wales. Anomalies will be exceptional on Kangaroo Island as well.

Moderate to extreme deficits are forecast around Melbourne and in the northeastern Murray-Darling Basin. Top End, Northern Territory will see primarily moderate deficits, but anomalies may be more intense around Darwin and along the western shore of the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Moderate deficits are expected in the Kimberley region along the northern coast of Western Australia, but deficits will be extreme in the center of the state west of the Gibson Desert, and exceptional in the southern tip near Busselton.

A block of intense surplus is forecast in the center of Australia east of Alice Springs. Moderate surpluses are forecast for a few pockets of northern Queensland: in the west near the Selwyn Range and in the east south of Townsville.

In New Caledonia, intense deficits are forecast. Nearly normal conditions are expected in New Zealand.

FORECAST BREAKDOWN
The 3-month maps (below) show the evolving conditions in greater detail.

The forecast through September indicates mild deficits in much of Australia, though more intense anomalies are expected in the east and Tasmania. Deficits will be severe to exceptional in Tasmania and only slightly less intense across the Bass Strait to the mainland surrounding Melbourne. Moderate to extreme deficits are expected in the eastern Murray-Darling Basin reaching north to the Darling Downs and Brisbane. Deficits will also be intense in a small pocket on northern Queensland’s coast south of Cairns. Moderate deficits are forecast in Top End, Northern Territory; the Gibson Desert in Western Australia; and pockets of South Australia. Intense deficits will persist in Western Australia’s southern tip near Busselton. Moderate surpluses will persist in northern Queensland south of Townsville near the coast and east of the Selwyn Range. Conditions of both surplus and deficit are forecast for a large block in the center of the country near the Simpson Desert east of Alice Springs.

In New Zealand, deficits are forecast on North Island where anomalies will be intense north of Auckland. Extreme to exceptional deficits will persist in New Caledonia.

From October through December, conditions will normalize in much of Australia and in New Zealand. Deficits will moderate in Tasmania but will be severe along the River Derwent to Hobart. Surpluses will persist in aforementioned areas of northern Queensland and will re-emerge in a large block near the Simpson Desert east of Alice Springs. Deficits will downgrade in New Caledonia, becoming moderate to severe.

The forecast for the final months – January through March 2020 – indicates mild deficits or normal conditions in Australia, normal conditions in New Zealand, and moderate deficits in New Caledonia.

(It should be noted that forecast skill declines with longer lead times.)

IMPACTS
Ten areas in New South Wales and southern Queensland are at high risk of reaching a “day zero,” the day when drinking water supply is entirely dried up. In the area of Tenterfield Shire Council the local dam is at just 32 percent capacity. Across the border in Queensland, Southern Downs Shire hasn’t seen rain since March 2017 and “day zero” would require over a million dollars each month for a convoy of 1,400 trucks to deliver drinking water.

A van selling sausages and Tim Tams, the chocolate covered biscuit that’s an Australian national passion, has shown the benefits of community-led mental health initiatives in helping farmers cope with the aftermath of natural disasters. In south-west Victoria where farmers are still recovering from last year’s St. Patrick’s Day bushfires that destroyed hundreds of homes and livestock, a small team has returned to the rural area twice a week in the van, providing a reliable informal gathering space where farmers have connected to one another and have grown comfortable talking about what has happened to them. The “Van Tastic” approach has been so successful that the Victorian government has approved funding for another six months.

Australia’s new Environment Minister is considering increasing the “flexibility” of the Murray River water allocations, allowing drought-affected farmers access to water reserved for maintaining the ecological integrity of the Murray-Darling Basin.

NOTE ON ADMINISTRATIVE BOUNDARIES
There are numerous regions around the world where country borders are contested. ISciences depicts country boundaries on these maps solely to provide some geographic context. The boundaries are nominal, not legal, descriptions of each entity. The use of these boundaries does not imply any judgement on the legal status of any territory, or any endorsement or acceptance of disputed boundaries on the part of ISciences or our data providers.

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Many analyses reported in ISciences-authored blog posts are based on data generated by the ISciences Water Security Indicator Model (WSIM). Other sources, if used, are referenced in footnotes accompanying individual posts. WSIM is a validated capability that produces monthly reports on current and forecast global freshwater surpluses and deficits with lead times of 1-9 months at 0.5°x0.5° resolution. This capability has been in continuous operation since April 2011 and has proven to provide reliable forecasts of emerging water security concerns in that time-frame. WSIM has the ability to assess the impacts of water anomalies on people, agriculture, and electricity generation. Detailed data, customized visualizations, and reports are available for purchase.

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