Global miners back groundwater modelling project

Groundwater and mining are vital to Australia’s future, and improved management of these two elements is behind a new multimillion-dollar initiative supported by BHP and Rio Tinto.

Led by the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training (NCGRT) at Flinders University and in conjunction with the mining and groundwater industries, the Groundwater Modelling Decision-Support Initiative will enable better groundwater management through improved modelling, frameworks and practices.

This is an important initiative for groundwater management in Australia and around the world, being one of the largest partnerships of its kind. Research, software, education and training, worked examples and case studies will help to advance and support decision making. The new initiative will work closely with end-users and stakeholders from industry, government, consulting and research organisations.

NCGRT director Professor Craig Simmons, who will lead the new project, says: “Understanding groundwater which is out of sight and out of mind is no easy feat.

“Australia is the driest inhabited continent in the world and groundwater is fundamental to our future. Groundwater is front and centre in so many issues, from water security to mining and energy, through to food and agriculture.

“Groundwater models are at the heart of environmental impact statements that underpin mining and coal seam gas development proposals and establishing water allocation plans. Groundwater systems are complex, and we often have limited data. Modelling predictions are therefore uncertain. Quantifying and reducing this uncertainty are crucial for improved groundwater modelling.”

The new initiative aims to promote, facilitate and support the improved use of numerical modelling in groundwater management, regulation and decision-making.

Initial cash funding of $2.6 million for three years has been provided by industry partners BHP and Rio Tinto.

“BHP recognises the importance of responsible water stewardship for the long-term sustainability of our industry, especially with operations based in remote areas of Australia,” says BHP’s Global Practice Lead – Hydrology, Mr Blair Douglas. “We have a responsibility to effectively manage and minimise our impacts on water resources. Effective groundwater modelling and working collaboratively on technical challenges plays an important role in decision-making for industry, communities and governments, and we are pleased to support the NCGRT’s work.”

Rio Tinto’s Shane Trott, Manager, Water Resource Evaluation, says “Water has an inherent societal value and the challenges surrounding water management require robust science. This is an exciting initiative and one that has real potential to raise the bar in terms of how the industry approaches groundwater modelling with emphasis on technical integrity and transparency.”

The NCGRT experts around Australia, including the headquarters at Flinders University in South Australia, will work on important modelling issues including uncertainty analysis, modelling in a risk-based framework, data worth analysis and data assimilation.

Flinders University Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Robert Saint says the new initiative is a credit to the industry partners taking an active role in improving environmental management.

“This is a tremendous initiative and we are delighted that NCGRT and Flinders University will lead this important work.

“It is a great testimony to the high calibre of NCGRT’s research and its track record working collaboratively with industry to solve important environmental problems that have a real-world impact.”

Through ongoing stakeholder engagement, via workshops, group meetings and steering committees, the initiative will result in long-term improvements in groundwater modelling crucial for more reliable groundwater assessments, management, policy, regulation and decision-making, Professor Simmons says.

The inaugural Inception Workshop for the Groundwater Modelling Decision-Support Initiative held in Canberra recently attracted more than 100 Australian and international groundwater experts.

  • The group photo above includes parties who attended Flinders University for a combined Groundwater Modelling Decision-Support Initiative meeting: from BHP – Ms Laura Tyler, Chief of Geoscience and Asset President, Olympic Dam; Mr Blair Douglas, Global Practice Lead for Hydrology and Water; Mr Michael Mayrhofer, Senior Specialist Environment. From Rio Tinto – Mr Santi Pal, Head of Surface Mining Centre of Excellence; Mr Shane Trott, Manager, Water Resource Evaluation; Mr Keith Brown, Principal Hydrogeologist. Project Steering Committee Members – Dr John Doherty, Director, Watermark Numerical; Mr Peter Baker, Hydrogeologist; Dr Glenn Harrington, Director and Principal Hydrogeologist, Innovative Groundwater Solutions. From Flinders University – Prof Clare Pollock, Acting Vice-Chancellor; Prof Robert Saint, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research); Prof Alistair Rendell, Vice-President and Executive Dean, College of Science and Engineering; Prof Craig Simmons FTSE, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Strategic Research Projects) Director, National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training; Mrs Fiona Adamson, Centre Manager, National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training.
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