The water in Australia’s biggest river is running so low and is so salty that the nation’s fifth-largest city, Adelaide, is at risk of having to ship water in to its residents, politicians have warned.

Adelaide’s water crisis follows similar problems in cities around the world, as the combination of growing population, increasing agricultural use and global warming stretches resources to the limit. Experts are warning of permanent drought in many regions.

Salinity levels in some stretches of the Murray River already exceed World Health Organisation recommendations for drinking, and South Australia’s water authority and 11 rural townships east of Adelaide have been told to prepare for the worst.

“Another dry year will deplete our reservoirs and the water in the Murray will become too saline to drink. We are talking about 1.3 million people who are not far off becoming reliant on bottled water. We are talking a national emergency,” said South Australian MP David Winderlich.

As early as next week, water from parts of the river may become too dangerous to drink, which would require the water authority to begin delivering bottled supplies to hospitals, clinics, care facilities and supermarkets, said Winderlich.

“There’s simply too many people pulling water out of the river,” said Roger Strother, Coorong council mayor. “We’ve been saying that one day it would catch up, and this summer is when it is going to happen. It could be next week.” — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009

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