Thursday, August 27, 2009

Drought Continues to Plague Australia’s Breadbasket

Conditions in Australia’s most important farming region are the worst on record and are not expected to get better anytime soon. The eight-year-long drought is the worst in a century, ruining crops throughout the Murray-Darling Basin, an area covering 410,000 square miles—the size of France and Spain combined. The basin, which stretches through Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, is considered Australia’s premier farming region, accounting for some 40 percent of the nation’s agricultural production.
Mark Twain once compared the area to America’s Mississippi. But now, Agence France-Presse reports, “Sections of the [Murray] River have become little more than stagnant pools as the drought continues, with banks eroded into crumbling dirt cliffs that leave the roots of gum trees exposed.” One of the river’s paddle boats, the Cumberoona, had to stop operating when water levels became too low three years ago.
Lakes near the Murray’s delta are now below sea level—only man-made barriers stop the sea water flooding in. These lakes are becoming acidic, as the lake bed soils turn into sulfuric acid when exposed to the air. Experts have detected acidity levels higher than battery acid in some of the small streams flowing into these lakes.
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