Water Resources Management

, Volume 33, Issue 3, pp 1087–1101 | Cite as

From Mountain Ranges to Sweeping Plains, in Droughts and Flooding Rains; River Murray Water Quality over the Last Four Decades

  • Tapas K. Biswas
  • Luke M. MosleyEmail author


The aim of this paper was to analyse the spatial and temporal patterns and drivers of water quality in a large arid/semi-arid river system (River Murray, Australia) using a long term (1978 − 2015) dataset collected from 24 monitoring sites. The water quality is highly variable, but on average electrical conductivity (EC), pH, turbidity, dissolved and total nutrient, colour and chlorophyll a levels increase with distance downstream from the headwaters to the lower reaches. This is a function of the natural accumulation of dissolved and particulate components and intermittent, mostly diffuse source, pollutant inputs. The Darling tributary inflow increases turbidity, total phosphorus and pH in the main River Murray channel. Based on long-term trend analysis at four representative sites, EC, nutrients and colour showed declining trends on average at most sites except in the headwaters. Increased flow increases concentrations of most quality parameters, although at very high flows decreases in pH, EC, turbidity and oxidized nitrogen were apparent at many sites. The extreme “Millennium” drought (2002 − 2009) period resulted in lowered concentrations of many water quality parameters, indicating retention in the landscape. In the post-drought flooding (2010 − 2012) period a large amount of organic material was mobilised, resulting in much higher peak colour concentrations than when mid-range flooding was more frequent. It is critical that this monitoring program is continued as a Basin-wide water management plan is implemented.


Water chemistry Murray-Darling basin Millennium drought Trend analysis Climate change 



We would like to thank Prof. Barry Hart for a critical review of an earlier draft of this manuscript that enabled us to greatly improve our analysis. The funding support of the Murray Darling Basin Authority and provision of this valuable dataset is greatly acknowledged, as is the various individuals and organisations who have been involved in the successful delivery of the water quality monitoring program.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest


Supplementary material

11269_2018_2168_MOESM1_ESM.docx (1 mb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 1040 kb)


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Murray-Darling Basin AuthorityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.Fenner School of Environment & SocietyAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  3. 3.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of AdelaideGlen OsmondAustralia

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