National Water Accounts reveal year-on-year loss to north’s supply

Posted 8 March 2017

Lake ArgyleStrong El Niño conditions contributed to a major decrease in aquifer storage in northern Australia last year, the latest Bureau of Meteorology National Water Accounts show. 

The Bureau has released its first tranche of National Water Account 2016 reports on the Burdekin, Ord and Daly regions as well as an overview of northern Australia

The reports show that although water demand in the three northern regions was met, a number of hydrologic changes were observed off the back of several years of dry conditions. 

“In the Ord region, poor rainfall prevented the normal filling and spilling of Lake Argyle during the wet season,” said the Bureau's Manager Water Accounting and Regulations Section Janice Green. 

“The wet season storage volume was the lowest it’s been since 1998. However, given the large storage volume of Lake Argyle there was no restriction in irrigation water supply.

“In the groundwater-dominated Daly region, dry conditions contributed to a decrease in aquifer storage – the fourth consecutive year there has been a drop in aquifer storage in the region.

“In the Burdekin region, rainfall and streamflow were well below average for the third successive year. However, the year’s rainfall was still sufficient to fill storages and to meet water demand.”

The reports showed water allocations in the region were similar to previous years. However, total water sourced was 6% lower than the previous year, largely due to increased rainfall in the Burdekin region, which decreased reliance on surface water for irrigation.

Water users across the region were predominantly irrigators, with approximately 60% of total water supply used for irrigation schemes, 39% for individual users (primarily for agricultural purposes) and less than 1% was used for town water supply.

The release of the reports marks the start of the sixth annual round of National Water Accounts. 

Green said a number of changes had been made to improve the product this year. 

“For the first time, the 10 regions of the National Water Account are being grouped according to geographic or demographic characteristics,” she said. 

“This will enable more meaningful comparisons to be made between the three northern Australia accounts and provide more insight on the differences and similarities between the six urban regions.”

The three groups are Northern Australia (Daly, Ord and Burdekin regions), Urban (Adelaide, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth, South East Queensland and Sydney regions) and the Murray-Darling Basin. 

Green said further improvements focused on simplification and ease of accessing content and key information.

“Changes include using key message boxes to graphically summarise the key points that are contained in each section,” Green said.

“[There has also been] a menu restructure, including dividing contextual information from this year’s information. And an outlook note provides a schematic representation of the expected outlook for each region.”

Reports for the urban regions will be published in late-April. The Murray-Darling Basin report and a national overview will be published mid-year.

The Bureau will be presenting on the National Performance Reports at Ozwater’17 as part of the dedicated policy stream on Wednesday, 17 May. Click here to view the Ozwater’17 program.