October 8, 2010 / 6:07 AM / 9 years ago

Factbox: Key facts about Australia's Murray-Darling basin

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Farmers would lose more than a third of irrigation water in Australia’s major food bowl, the Murray-Darling, under a plan released on Friday to restore ailing rivers, posing a new headache for the Labor minority government.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s fragile one-seat majority government is dependent on support from rural independents, who may oppose the plan as it will impact on regional towns, and the Greens party, which backs the irrigation cuts.

Here are some facts and figures about the basin.

* The Murray-Darling basin covers 1.06 million sq km, the size of France and Spain, and covers 14 percent of Australia’s landmass.

* The basin contains 20 major rivers, including Australia’s three longest rivers, the 2,740-km Darling, the 2,530-km Murray and the 1,690-km Murrumbidgee.

* Around 3 million people live in the basin or rely on its water supply.

* Total area of irrigated crops and pasture is 1.47 million hectares, or 71 percent of irrigation area in Australia.

* Around 11,000 gigaliters of water entitlements are diverted to irrigation, industry and consumption, up from around 2,000 gigaliters a year in 1920.

* The basin accounts for 40 percent of the value of Australian agriculture.

* The basin produces more than 90 percent of Australia’s domestic fresh food.

* The basin is home to cotton and rice growers, 53 percent of Australian grain cereals, 95 percent of oranges, 54 percent of apples, 28 percent of Australia’s cattle herd, 45 percent of sheep and 62 percent of pigs.

* The Murray-Darling basin covers four states, with each state responsible for allocating water for irrigation.

* The basin contains 25,000 wetlands, including 16 wetlands of international importance.

(1 gigaliter = 1 billion liters)

Sources: National Farmers Federation, Murray Darling Basin Commission, Murray Darling Basin Authority.

Reporting by James Grubel; Editing by Sugita Katyal

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