Calm waters pre-dawn on Lake Alexandrina


A look at the flow required in key locations

When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.

Benjamin Franklin

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Flow in the Murray

Contrary to popular belief, the flow is highest in Spring and drops off into Winter. This can be seen in the charts below, but take note that a drought will drastically alter the general trend. More regular droughts are causing the worrying drying trend over the years as seen in these charts.


Previous Trip Analysis

Above Tom Groggin

All river flow data was taken from Biggara using historical data. All saw decreasing flows during their journey.

My journey between 21 Dec and 24 Dec 2019 had a water level of between 0.23 m to 0.26 m and flow of 161 to 201 ML/day at Biggara. This was barely enough water and I was dragging the kayak for nearly 50% of the trip. My journey had the lowest water levels by far of all of the trip reports that I have found, flows in the lowest 2% recorded since 1968 and the lowest December flows bar 2006 during the Millennium drought. 🙁

Uncertain on the exact dates, but Xavier Anderson and Jason MacQueen seem to have done the Poplars to Tom Groggin mid-Nov 2019 where there was a height of 0.5 m and a flow of around 650 ML/day. No mention of any issues due to low flows.

Mike Bremer, et al, journey took just two days, 14 & 15 Dec 2017 with 4 times the flow. Water level of between 0.62 m to 0.64 m and a flow of 908 to 967 ML/day. No mention of the need to drag their inflatable kayaks, other than over occasional boulders.

Rod Wellington, 6 to 12 Jan 2008. It is slightly unclear when Rob passed Tom Groggin, but his blog suggests a harder time than I had. Water level of between 0.34 m to 0.42 m and flow of 269 to 367 ML/day at Biggara. While he had a higher flow, it was likely a heavier kayak and load that resulted in significant amounts of dragging.

James Castrission, et al, in 10 to 15 Nov 2001 took 5 days while facing high flows and frigid temperatures as they pack surfed (no floatation device) their way down. Water levels were between 0.94 m to 1.18 m and flow of 1,674 to 2,890 ML/day. One of the highest recorded flows, they suggest Grade III rapids.

Kevin Moody, et al, 26 to 29 Jan 1988, on lilos. Water level of between 0.37 m to 0.45 m and flow of 229 to 349 ML/day. Even with the higher flow of 349 ML/day, they reported the need to drag their lilos on a regular basis, especially above Tin Mine Ck and in the final sections before Tom Groggin.

PercentileFlow (MLD)Height (m)Known Trips
1 1070.20
5 1830.29Alan Davison, 2019
25 3940.46Kevin Moody, et al 1988; Rod Wellington, 2008
507520.63Xavier Anderson and Jason MacQueen, 2019
75 1,5530.87Mike Bremer, et al, 2017
902,7611.15James Castrission, et al, 2001
95 3,7861.33
Rough Height Guidelines
Mostly unpaddlable under 0.3 m, especially the first half that has only a third of the flow compared to below Leather Barrel Ck.
Some difficulty paddling with multiple groundings / snags on shallow boulders. Some dragging on a few rapids.
Mostly enjoyable paddle in mostly small Grade I rapids, with a couple fun Grade II / III (?) rapids & drops around Leather Barrel Ck.
(?) Minor flood. Likely manageable, but likely take particular care with the log jams that could act as strainers.
(?) Major flood. Likely to be extremely dangerous with the amount of logs in this creek.

These are based only off a small handful of known trips and should only be used as guidelines. No high flow trips were found.

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Murray River Gorge

Level of 0.8 m is listed as the minimum level, and 1.0 m as a good level on and given a Grade III/IV grading.

The archived Paddle Australia guide recommends 0.80 - 1.80 m with the additional note to add 0.35 m to the Bigarra readings to estimate the Murray Gorge level.

Most of the previous trip reports seem to have fallen in the 0.4 m to 0.8 m range as seen at Bigarra, but no indication given on grade. Ro & Josh noted low flows at 0.4 m & 355 ML/day.

Even never having done any form of rafting / whitewater before, I can safely say the difficulty / grade is not that high at 0.2 m!

Rough Height Guidelines
Likely unpaddlable under 0.15 m
Paddlable with low flows at a lower grade that increases as the flow increases. More portages and dragging required at lower flows
0.45 - 1.50 m for Grade III/IV whitewater
(?) Minor / moderate flood - check with local guiding companies
(?) Major flood

These are based only off a small handful of known trips and should only be used as guidelines. No high flow trips were found.

PercentileFlow (MLD)Height (m)Known Trips
1 1070.20Alan Davison, 2019
5 1830.29
25 3940.46Rowen Privett and Josh Smith, 2005; Rod Wellington, 2008; Xavier Anderson and Jason MacQueen, 2019
75 1,5530.87Mike Bremer, et al, 2017
95 3,7861.33

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Bringenbrong Bridge to Hume Dam

I found less detailed records of this leg even though it is a more commonly done section compared to the upper Murray.

First recorded issues with low flow were from Sarah Davis who started about the same time as me, but she skipped the upper sections while I was foolishly dragging my kayak down from the Poplars. Dates seem to be the 24 to 29 Dec 2019, so this would have had a height of 0.83 to 0.88 m and 570 to 774 ML/day, flows in the lowest 1% recorded. Digging deeper, Mike Bremer reported some low sections between the Bringenbrong Bridge and Towong back in 23 April 2004, 1.1 m and 1,440 ML/day.

Even with limited river data records from Oct 1983, it really shows me how bad the 2019/20 season was with the drought.

La Niña in 2020/21 definitely resulted in better flows in Spring, but when I started in Summer the water was fairly low but easily manageable at 1,168 ML/day / 1.01 m to Towong with an empty kayak, and the increased flow overnight to 1,900 ML/day / 1.17 m made the rest of the trip down fairly easy. However, I paddled this section with two less experienced kayakers and they both grounded a few times after picking the wrong lines. So expect some scrapes on your boat and maybe the odd bounce of a rock here and there when under 2,500 ML/day / 1.3 m.

Rough Height Guidelines
Some difficult sections with a fair amount of dragging required in many of the shallow rapids.
Mostly enjoyable paddle. Take care with the willow strainers.
(?) Minor flood. Likely manageable, but likely take particular care with any strainers.
(?) Major flood.

These are based only off a small handful of known trips and should only be used as guidelines. No high flow trips were found.

PercentileFlow (MLD)Height (m)Known Trips
1 7530.90Sarah Davis, 2019
5 1,2191.04Xavier Anderson and Jason MacQueen, 2019
10 1,6961.15Mike Bremer, 2004; Rod Wellington, 2010
25 2,9261.37Alan Davison, 2020
50 4,5731.63Dave Cornthwaite, 2009
75 6,5221.90Kevin Moody, 1986; Mike Bremer, 1995; Rowen Privett and Josh Smith, 2005; Peter Wynen & friends, Sept 2006 (?)
90 9,157 2.29
95 11,5092.47
99 16,8242.96

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