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The Impact of Extreme Low Flows on the Water Quality of the Lower Murray River and Lakes (South Australia)

Abstract

The impact of extreme low flows on the water quality of the Lower Murray River and Lower Lakes (Alexandrina and Albert) in South Australia was assessed by comparing water quality from five sites during an extreme low flow period (March 2007–November 2009) and a preceding reference period (March 2003–November 2005). Significant increases in salinity, total nitrogen, total phosphorus, chlorophyll a and turbidity were observed in the Lower Lakes during the low flow period. Consequently, water quality guidelines for the protection of aquatic ecosystems were greatly exceeded. Principal Component Analysis, empirical and mass balance model calculations suggested these changes could be attributed primarily to the lack of flushing resulting in concentration of dissolved and suspended material in the lakes, and increased sediment resuspension as the lakes became shallower. The river sites also showed significant but more minor salinity increases during the extreme low flow period, but nutrient and turbidity concentrations decreased. The most plausible reasons for these changes were decreased catchment inputs and increased influence of saline groundwater inputs. The results highlight the vulnerability of arid and semi-arid lake systems to reduced flow conditions as a result of climatic changes and/or water management decisions.

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Acknowledgments

The assistance of Alex Payne and Robert Brookes in sample collection and analysis during 2008–2009 is gratefully acknowledged. We wish to also acknowledge David Palmer for producing the GIS map, Karl Fradley for data provision, Brendan Busch for assistance in preparing the figures, and Peter Christy for sharing his knowledge of the Lower Lakes. The part funding contribution of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority is also gratefully acknowledged as is the assistance of the Department for Environment and Natural Resources. We thank the Editor and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on the draft manuscript.

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Correspondence to Luke M. Mosley.

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Mosley, L.M., Zammit, B., Leyden, E. et al. The Impact of Extreme Low Flows on the Water Quality of the Lower Murray River and Lakes (South Australia). Water Resour Manage 26, 3923–3946 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11269-012-0113-2

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11269-012-0113-2

Keywords

  • Hydrological drought
  • Biogeochemistry
  • Climate change
  • Salinisation
  • Eutrophication