Flinders in $17m water research project

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.

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0 thoughts on “Flinders in $17m water research project

  1. If the SA Government was at all interested in this issue, it would do whatever it takes – court injunction, Act of parliament – to stop BHP $Billion from buying up every available source of water around the Birdsville Track, the APY Lands and elsewhere in anticipation of its expansion of Olympic Dam. 35 million litres of free water per day from the GAB is a disgrace. 125 million litres per day for an expanded open cut urnaium mine is a crime. Whether the GAB is a closed system of plutonic water or a rechargeable aquifer, it cannot sustain the present drain on it as a natural resource. Bring on the study by all means, but I personally don’t think we’ve got time to wait for it.

  2. When one of the globes biggest polluters and wasters of water, BHP Billiton, has been strangely exempted from legislative and environmental responsibility (Indenture Act 1982), one must question the scope of this enquiry, and whether it’s a ‘Yes Minister” style knee-jerk reaction to the ever increasing adverse publicity surrounding the wholesale wasteage of water at Roxby Downs and other mine locations in South Australia.

  3. We understand that BHP Billiton strongly prefers to build a desalination plant in Upper Spencer Gulf to meet its expanded water requirements. So in theory no MORE water should be extracted from the GAB (currently up to 35 Megalitres/day) but we are not sure if the desalination plant will replace all water sourced from the basin. The study should shed light on broad groundwater sustainability issues. The fact the expansion will create a need for an additional 125 Megalitres of water each day poses an opportunity for all of us to work with the company on water efficiency and re-use solutions to optimise water use whilst enabling viable economic development.

  4. The fact that the company needs 125 megalitres a day from an arid land ancient aquifer area makes it difficult to work with this company. The water, energy, and radiation exposure intensity, combined with the secrecy and mis-directed applications of the industry – underscores the need for this economic and environmental hoax to be better understood. The operation has no merits on an energy equation and is horrendously dangerous to human life and planetary well being, which is widely known begging the question and need to address this issue in the interests of sound economic and environmental management. Australian governments are well known to implement studies across many spectrums, while simultaneously ignoring current negative effects or policy action to remedy these situations.

  5. Allocating Water and Maintaining Springs in the Great Artesian Basin – sounds really good to investigate this.
    Where does the water in the Great Aertesian Basin come from? – it’s always been thought to be recharged from surface water. Some recent studies suggest that this is not necessarily so. Either way, the GAB’s water comes mainly not from South Australia, but from Queensland and Northern NSW.
    The water levels in the GAB are going down. Is this just from the low rainfall? Nothing to do with

    The SA Roxby Downs Indenture Act provides BHP Billiton the legal authority to override important state legislation including the Water Resources Act 1997 and Aboriginal heritage laws.

    How come that BHPBilliton can get away with this? BHPB effectively siphons off 35 million litres of water daily, at no cost – water that comes from other states. Those states are subject to environmental and Aboriginal heritage laws – the Indenture Act does not apply in those states.
    BHPB is a water thief.

  6. I acknowledge the bases for the views expressed above, and there are justifiable environmental and health concerns with any mining or other such intervention by mankind into the natural world. And there is no certainty that the findings of the $17m study will inform and result in sound Government policy, but that’s the world we live in. The SA Government clearly has given BHPB the scope to progress their plans, but at the same time, there are serious environmental requirements that need to be satisfied, and these ought to be properly addressed in the EIS. Flinders through Flinders Research Centre for Coastal & Catchment Environments (FR3cE) [http://coasts-catchments.flinders.edu.au] will be interested in seeing this document and providing a response, given that we had little opportunity to contribute to relevant environmental studies. We hosted a presentation by BHPB that attracted a large and interested audience, and the company certainly indicated an interest in working with us on solutions inc. longer-term research. We need to approach the opportunities in a positive constructive way.

  7. John Goslino mentions the desalination plant. Bhp would like to do a lot of things!! I query the tag, “the big Australian”. Bhp are merely CARPETBAGGERS from Britain.

    It would be good to see other responsible organisation along with Pirsa and the EPA study the environmental impact of where the slurry they intend to dispose of is intending to go after desalination. Ccmpanies performing there own studies such as bhp no longer seems desirable.
    It is becoming apparent that there is no place for BHP left in Australia. Caos and destruction
    follow them.

    Christina’s point of the Indenture Act being signed with the South Australian government is indeed a lightbulb moment, considering that both states mentioned are quite curious as to where their water is going. One can hardly imagine that these states would be prepared to sign such a ludicrous document in light of the current danger to the basin along with the poisoning of ground waters. In any case they are losing their water to South Australia and apparently don’t know it. There is plenty of water in the outback of our states, however, mysteriously it is not referred to, and mysteriously it is free for mining companies. In fact the mining companies are “selling” OUR water to Australians in unincorporated communities.

    As the saying goes, “there is much more to be done”. But it will be done by the people or it won’t happen.

  8. I agree with John that a constructive approach needs to be taken. Community affected (which is many people over a disperse area of the planet) must be considered in this approach. The science and fact of the risk must be collated and assessed in terms of a short term, medium term and long term action plan. Known and unknown risk need to be tabulated completely and transparently. Industry experts including Dr Gavin Mudd and political advocates including Mark Parnell have well demonstrated current risk which has not been acknowledged by the corporation or the governments at cause with the issue. So any constructive approach needs to consider the shortfalls of process which will skew a logical and pragmatic outcome looked at from whatever perspective affects the stakeholders – economic, environmental, geo-political, heritage, land bio-diversity, water and radiation exposure and contamination. This issue is priority to be managed due to the odd circumstances whereby a corporation is seemingly acting against the public interest and is assisted in this state of action by government(s) which may as it turn out be remiss in due governance if indeed all the public and corporate risk factors were looked at, measured, and taken into account. Like the James Hardie asbestos contamination of workers, history tells us that the costs of mistakes now, tend to escalate and multiply and both community and the business sector end up paying the price for these un-accounted for risks, whether it be in the current or future generations, something our politicians should consider seriously now in relation to this risk.

  9. Dr. Dennis Matthews from the Nuclear Issues Centre discusses the overuse of the Great Artesian Basin by only one uranium mining company, in 1999 (10 years ago!)

    3CR Community Radio 855am
    With Eric Miller and Linda Marks. Saturday at 10.00am. 13th March 1999 (easily googled)

    “….Eric Miller: It is really another downturn for having a uranium mine in your state!

    Dennis Matthews: Well it is another negative affect. There are a heap of negative affects. They already use huge amounts of water from the artesian basin with the various affects on that area, on the Mound Springs, on the ecology of the area. Now they are using huge amounts of electricity with the negative affects that we have just discussed. They are also generating the largest amount of radioactive waste, probably in the world. And they are going to eventually have something like 800 hectares, 35 metres high, of tailings. It will be the biggest pile of radioactive waste anywhere in the world, I think, by the time it is finished.

    Eric Miller: Which South Australians will have to look after for eternity.

    Dennis Matthews: Yes, forever, essentially. We are talking thousands and tens of thousands of years and for all intents and purposes, that’s eternity……..”

    From an ex-WMC worker: Quote: ” Roxby does control the sump of the GAB and therefore the whole Basin.

    Current water extraction causes a cone of depression at the well site which in turn causes a drop in the potentiametric head across the whole basin. ie the drawdown effect can be felt 1000’s of kms away. The result of the cone of depression causes water to speed up as it tries to fill the void created by pumping.

    The eastern states should be querying Roxby’s water extraction program as a reason for the poor state of their own Artesian waters” End of quote.

  10. With the controversy surrounding the inappropriate and hasty clearance of the 4 Mile Creek / Beverley Uranium Mine, another looming water issue for the GAB is the geothermal industry,

    The ABC Story, Aboriginal people ‘not heard’ over mine http://abc.gov.au/news/stories/2009/07/15/2626379.htm, raises the question on who has heard what on the Petratherm Paralana Project which a recent ASX release shows an MOU for 4 Mile Creek power supply, another point of questioning regarding the future strain on the GAB, in an area suffering the downside of excess Cooper Basin water extraction. According to UNSW Geothermal conference discussing SA hot rocks a plant of the scale suggested (drilling commenced) 30MW will require to fill its reservoir post hydraulic fraccing, a cubic kilometre of water. That’s just one proposal amidst over 90 which have been approved for exploration. Also given the issues surrounding lax waste disposal of ISL waste, the proximity of a large geothermal project then raises the question of aquifer contamination from the radioactive decay process within the granite body and possible cross contamination with the ISL mines themselves.

    The area around Mound Springs has suffered as visitors will see, and the area of the Four Mile Creek and Beverley Mines is in close proximity to the Paralana Hot Springs as well.

    Just reading the book ‘Collapse’ it raises the issue of insensitive mining in Australia, well beyond the capabilities of the ecology of the arid land systems, would appear we are sacrificing bio-diversity for projects which are being approved under the most controversial and suspicious circumstances.

  11. So much of this boils down to good intentions and good information. The Sydney Alternative Media covered the Hot Rocks issues but the ABC coverage is too often brief and lacking in detail. Informed debate will result in better outcomes for all Australians. Ethical Investors pulled out of the Petratherm Geothermal as shown in the article, http://sydney.indymedia.org.au/image/australian-ethical-gets-cold-feet-hot-rocks-paralana , but there are so many mines and industries that also need to be examined if we are to safeguard our precious water reserves, as most of the country is arid and in fine balance between thriving and diminishing. Congratulations to Dr Love and Flinders University for providing a forum to discuss the issues, lets hope we can move ahead with greater understanding and wisdom and make better planning decisions.

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