The long term sustainability of the Great Artesian Basin and its ability to provide water to future mining and pastoral developments, urban and rural communities, and the environment will be the focus of a $17 million research project involving Flinders University and a coalition of government agencies and industry partners.
Announced on December 8 by the SA Minister for Environment and Conservation, Mr Jay Weatherill, the project will examine potential risks to the unique ecosystems supported by the Great Artesian Basin – one of the largest groundwater resources in the world. These include an estimated 4000 individual springs that have helped preserve rare bird and animal species.
Chief Investigator (Hydrogeology), Dr Andy Love, said “the broad objectives of this project are to develop an understanding of the plumbing of the outback springs and determine the risks to the environments from various uses of groundwater”.
“This project will provide a blue print for future investigations in the area and will address shortcomings in estimates of sustainability,” he said.
“This project is particularly important considering the large number of potential new users of groundwater in various industries. An expansion in exploration and mining activities in the area will place increased demands on securing groundwater allocations for economic development.
“Whilst increased groundwater allocation will provide greater security for economic development, consideration needs to be given to protecting groundwater dependent ecosystems. Clearly a balance between development and environmental protection needs to be achieved. However, this is not possible without increased knowledge about the amount of groundwater that can be safely extracted.”
Dr Love said over-extraction of groundwater from the Great Artesian Basin in northern New South Wales and Queensland over the past century had resulted in an estimated decline in water flows of around 50 per cent in many cases with some springs ceasing to flow altogether.
“Fortunately, this is not the situation in South Australia where there has only been minimal impact on spring flow in comparison to the eastern states. This provides a unique opportunity to get the balance right that will allow for controlled economic development as well as providing protection for the iconic springs of the Great Artesian Basin,” Dr Love said.
The project, known as Allocating Water and Maintaining Springs in the Great Artesian Basin, will be administered through the South Australia Arid Lands Natural Resources Management Board in collaboration with the Department of Water, Land and Biodiversity Conservation and Department for Environment and Heritage in South Australia and the Department of Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport in the Northern Territory.
The total cost of the project is approximately $17 million dollars, of which $8 million has been contributed by the National Water Commission under the Raising National Water Standards Program, with a further $9 million being provided by the project partners. The Australian Government’s $200 million Raising National Water Standards Program supports the implementation of the National Water Initiative by funding projects that are improving Australia’s national capacity to measure, monitor and manage our water.
In recognition that integrated natural resource management cannot be achieved by a single organisation, the project consortium comprises scientists and water resource experts from government agencies, universities, and other specialised groups: Flinders University through the Flinders Research Centre for Coastal and Catchment Environments (FRC3E), CSIRO Land and Water and University of Adelaide.
Minister Weatherill, Flinders Vice-Chancellor, Professor Michael Barber, and representatives of the various stakeholders attended the launch of the project at Flinders University on December 8.