Algae fears. An aerial view of the affected Murray-Darling. Source: The Daily Telegraph

Farmer Mazzareno Bisogni fights back tears as he stands among the remains of trees he planted 35 years ago, victims of a drought hitting "Australia's Mississippi".

Bisogni's orchard lies in the heart of the once-mighty Murray-Darling river system which irrigates Australia's food bowl, the vast southeastern corner responsible for 40 percent of agricultural output.

The eight-year 'big dry', the worst drought in a century, has devastated the region, an area covering 1.06 million square kilometres (410,000 square miles) -- the size of France and Spain combined.

Lack of water this year meant the fruit on Bisogni's apple and pear trees in Victoria state literally cooked on their branches under the furious Australian sun, making them suitable only for jam. ...

Tourist brochures for the Murray-Darling say Mark Twain likened the waterway to his beloved Mississippi during a visit in the 1890s.

But the US writer would struggle to make the comparison today, particularly since the one of the river's paddleboats, the Cumberoona, had to stop operating three years ago when water levels became too shallow.

Sections of the river have become little more than stagnant pools as the drought continues, with banks eroded into crumbling dirt cliffs that leave the roots of gum trees exposed.

For three months this year, a toxic blue-green algal bloom leeched along 800 kilometres (500 miles) of the Murray, prompting warnings from authorities not to swim in the river.

Water levels are so low that the freshwater lakes near the Murray's mouth in South Australia are turning acid as soil minerals are exposed to oxygen. The lakes are now below sea-level and only man-made barriers keep the ocean out. ...

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