The East Gippsland Dry Continues

Tambo River stopped at Bark Sheds (image Lilli Antonoff)

Despite some good showers in Bairnsdale over summer the East Gippsland dry continues. How far it extends into central and south Gippsland I am not aware and without ploughing through the rainfall records I can only assume that it is still fairly dire across Gippsland but with a green flush in many places from the latest rain. The large bushfires that have burned at Rosedale, Walhalla and Timbarra over the last month indicate that the dry is still widespread across our region although they, too, have been subdued by the recent storms.

Another indicator of the dry may be water for irrigation. The Southern Rural Water website states “When river, creek and groundwater levels drop, Southern Rural Water often has to introduce rosters, restrictions or bans to ensure a fair distribution of available water to all licence holders.” I have been informed that irrigation on the Mitchell River may be “about to be banned” and that it is currently at Stage 9 – one step before a total ban.

Other anecdotal accounts abound.  Some farmers in the Swifts Creek district have been feeding out for 2 years although they have had some good summer rain. Lake Bunga at Lakes Entrance is almost as low as it can be without bursting out into the ocean and draining completely. The latter has only occurred 3 times in the last 30 years after periods of very heavy rainfall. It is also very salty indicating substantial water loss through evaporation.

This illustrates part of the problem of summer rainfall – that much more moisture is lost to evaporation and thus greater rainfall is required to make an impression on soil moisture. The rainfall is also often via storms which can result in heavy falls in some areas but varies substantially from place to place. Some time ago I was informed that parts of Glenaladale had missed most of the summer rains although hopefully they got some in the last dump.

Climate change predictions have been clear for many years; that the droughts we experience will be longer and more severe, and that they will often be broken by short periods of heavy rainfall causing floods. Such was the lot of the Omeo district in 1998. And if we need a reminder of what a grand disaster of this sort is like look to western Queensland now.