Lake Alexandrina & Lake Albert, South Australia

Lake Locations:

Australia - South Australia -

Also known as:  Lower Murray Lakes

Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert are important lakes south of Adelaide in South Australia. Often called the lower lakes of the Murray River, the two freshwater natural lakes have played an important part in agricultural production for nearly 150 years. Because of the unique ecological niche the lakes play in the wetland environment along Encounter Bay on the Southern Ocean, the two large lakes have received a large amount of attention in recent years. Severe drought recently put the lakes’ very existence in danger. Until welcome rainfall began to replenish the lakes in 2010, it appeared that both the lakes and its human inhabitants would lose the way of life carefully built via decades of human management.

Few settlements grace the shores of large Lake Alexandrina, and only little Meningie holds court on smaller Lake Albert. From the beginning of European settlement, this has been farming country and a fishing and boating mecca in a naturally arid land. In recent years, as people have begun to study the unique ecology of the area, and enjoy the plethora of birds that inhabit the marshes and nearby Coorong Estuary, more emphasis has been placed on the natural needs of the environment in order to sustain its ancient ecology. The two lakes are natural estuary lakes – primarily freshwater with their waters originating from the Murray River upstream. The original Murray River mouth emptied into the bay in the area of Goolwa after wandering through several channels and ever-shifting sandbars. The combined Coorong Estuary and lakes Alexandrina and Albert, along with their associated wetlands, are all designated a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance as waterfowl habitat. The Coorong and the nearby wetlands support over 200 types of native and migrating birds. Parts of the Coorong also form the Coorong National Park and Game Reserve.

Lake Albert connects to Lake Alexandrina via a narrow channel and has no other outlet. When Lake Alexandrina was discovered in 1830 by Captain Charles Sturt, he missed the channel leading to Lake Albert entirely, and the smaller lake wasn’t discovered for another nine years. Lake Alexandrina was named for Princess Alexandrina, niece of King William IV of Great Britain and Ireland, who became Queen Victoria upon her ascension to the throne. Eager for fresh water to facilitate farming and cattle-ranching, the lands around both lakes quickly became agricultural. Several steam paddle wheelers acted as transportation on the lakes. The town of Milang on the northwestern shore served as home base for the paddle wheelers and now acts as host to artists and caravan parks. Visitors and locals alike enjoy sailing, windsurfing, power-boating and water-skiing, fishing and swimming.

Silver perch, Murray cod, golden perch, bony herring, catfish, Australian smelt, common carp, tench, rainbow trout and brown trout are caught in both lakes with the introduced carp likely the most common species. Both lakes are very shallow, with the deepest spot in either lake about 20 feet in Lake Alexandrina. At 20 feet, the bottom is about 18 feet below sea level. Most commercial marinas are located downstream at Goolwa and enter the two-lake system via locks. The lakes are commonly the site of regattas and boating races.

In an effort to prevent the occasional incursion of seawater into the lakes, a series of dams, dykes, berms and locks were built in the 1940s which enlarged the lakes somewhat. Much water is extracted from the lakes for irrigation purposes. The entire Murray River system is used for irrigation, reducing the flow downstream to both the lakes and ultimately the Coorong Estuary. Estimates show about 25% less water flows through the Murray River than did before development. This has caused conflicts, and the issue came to a head in a spectacular way when South Australia was hit by a major drought in 2007-2008. With almost no rainfall over that period, crop irrigation and evaporation caused Lake Alexandrina to shrink precipitously, and Lake Albert nearly dried up. The Coorong Estuary was seriously deprived of the necessary fresh water to maintain habitat for the many bird and waterfowl species that live in the giant coastal swamp. Ranchers sold off their herds of cattle, irrigation pipe lay across the dry lake bed, and crops dried up and died. To compound the problem, the remaining water in Lake Alexandrina became saltier, mostly from the incursion of salty groundwater. Competing interests argued about what should be done.

Some scientists advocated opening the gates of the ‘barrages’ to let seawater flush out the lakes. Locals argued that, once the sea entered, there would be no way to get it back out again, effectively changing a freshwater lake to a saline lake. A barrier was constructed across the channel to Lake Albert to prevent water from flowing to it, thus dooming that lake. Before long, Lake Albert was nearly dry. Even worse, the now-dry lakebed soil, high in iron content, oxidized quickly, forming highly acid groundwater to permeate the soil, killing plants. The problems were apparently caused by the lack of the mass of freshwater preventing both the salty groundwater and the acid groundwater from percolating to the surface. Some experts suggested letting Lake Albert dry completely and treating the now-dry acid soils with a lime additive and tolerant cover crops, a process that would easily take several years. The international ecological community was highly upset because nothing was done to save the unique wetland ecological system, although there was likely little that would ever meet everyone’s desires. Realizing the disaster that was being created, authorities began pumping water from Lake Alexandrina across the barrier into Lake Albert. Meanwhile, the Coorong Estuary was drying up, rare ecological niche plants and animals were being displaced, and no one could come up with a plan that would meet every need.

Finally, in the midst of mankind’s dithering, Mother Nature took action: the rains came. The rains arrived in such torrents that serious flooding occurred in much of South Australia. In 2010, Lake Alexandrina nearly refilled and Lake Albert gained a great deal of water. Coorong Estuary, part of the Coorong National Park, began to recover its lush rich environment. Normal rainfall since has succeeded in restoring much of Lake Alexandrina’s normal environment. Lake Albert, however, faces long-term problems with little solution offered: it is too salty for irrigation purposes. Reducing the salinity via natural means may take many years. Because Lake Albert is at the ‘end-of-the-line’ in the Murray Lakes system, incoming fresh water from the Murray River does not flush the lake adequately to reduce the salinity. So, although both lakes are once again bird watching, boating and swimming destinations, Lake Albert is less productive as a fishery and not providing irrigation waters to local farms. It is again open for business for tourism, however. Campgrounds, local farm stays and guest cottages provide a welcome holiday opportunity just 50 miles from Adelaide. The area has much to offer from the glorious beaches and boating paradise near Goolwa to the productive wetlands and pleasant climate of the lower Murray River. A visit to this unique environment is definitely a bucket-list item, if you ever reach South Australia. We hope you’ll come!

*Statistics shown are for Lake Alexandrina. Lake Albert covers 56,830 acres when full.

Things to do at Lake Alexandrina & Lake Albert

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Water Skiing
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Birding
  • National Park

Fish species found at Lake Alexandrina & Lake Albert

  • Brown Trout
  • Carp
  • Catfish
  • Cod
  • Perch
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Smelt
  • Tench
  • Trout

Lake Alexandrina & Lake Albert Photo Gallery

Lake Alexandrina & Lake Albert Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

Surface Area: 160,372 acres

Shoreline Length: 70 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 2 feet

Average Depth: 9 feet

Maximum Depth: 20 feet

Water Volume: 1,305,248 acre-feet

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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