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Drought ends in south-east Australia

Published:  21 October, 2010

The decade-long drought in south-east Australia has ended, according to a top Barossa Valley winemaker.

Earlier this month, New South Wales lifted the drought proclamation in the state, and with floods there last week swelling the levels of the Murrumbidgee, a tributary of the Murray River, huge amounts of water are heading towards the Murray Darling. This huge wine region straddles the Darling river and both sides of the Murray river in New South Wales and Victoria.

"It's not been announced at federal level that the drought's over, but for me it is in the south-east of Australia," Martin Pfeiffer, owner and vineyard manager of Whistler Wines in the Barossa Valley, told Harpers.

"I have a shack on the Murray here in South Australia, and the river's the highest I've seen it for over ten years. It'll be even higher in a month's time when that flood water from the Murrumbidgee arrives. Catchment levels for the Murray River are getting up to 50% after sitting at 10-15% for years."

This is welcome news for the bulk-wine-producing Murray Darling growers, who are totally dependent on irrigation as soils there have little water-holding capacity and there is virtually nil rainfall in the growing season.

"It's all turned around in the last 12 months when we've had above-average rainfall," Pfeiffer continued. "The waters off the north-east coast of Australia have been warming thanks to the La Niña effect, ( the extensive cooling of the central and eastern Pacific), leading to a 30% increase in consistent rains down the east coast of Australia. This has spilled over into South Australia, where we've had what excellent rains in the Murray Basin. Everywhere's looking green."

Pfeiffer is a keen believer in rain cyles in south-eastern Australia. "This is the third drought we've had in the last 120 or so years," he revealed. "The first was at the end of the nineteenth century, coming into the twentieth. The second was in the 1940s and '50s, and now we've had this last one. We recovered from both before and I believe we will again."