Allocating Water and Maintaining Springs in the GAB

The Great Artesian Basin (GAB) is Australia’s largest freshwater resource. It underlies 22% of the Australian continent including portions of Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and the Northern Territory. It is the only reliable source of water in many arid areas and is an essential resource to support Indigenous cultural values, rural settlements, agricultural and other industries, as well as the endangered ecosystems that are unique and endemic to the world-famous GAB springs.

In 2004, all governments in Australia committed to the National Water Initiative and agreed to recognise the connectivity between surface water and groundwater resources and to manage connected systems as a single resource.

In the GAB, one of the challenges for water planning and management has been our limited understanding of the hydrogeological complexity that governs groundwater movement across the basin. The National Water Commission therefore funded the Allocating Water and Maintaining Springs in the Great Artesian Basin project to investigate surface and groundwater interactions and mound spring characteristics in the South Australian and the Northern Territory portions of the GAB.

The project was supported by funding from the South Australian Government and contributions from Flinders University, Adelaide University, CSIRO and the Northern Territory Government. The project also attracted international scientific collaborators including the University of New Mexico, Oklahoma State University and the University of Bern (Switzerland).

Together with the Great Artesian Basin Water Resource Assessment—a complementary $6.25 million project co-funded by the National Water Commission and the Australian Department for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities—this project has substantially updated our understanding of the GAB’s geology and hydrology .

Key findings and outcomes from the AWMSGAB project:

  • For the first time, the locations of all springs in the Western margin of the GAB have been mapped and recorded, and baseline condition assessments undertaken. This provides an essential baseline against which to assess the effect of current and future management actions.
  • The water balance for the region has been refined using a number of scientific methods to estimate various types of recharge and discharge processes. This new information challenges long-held management assumptions that the GAB is in a steady state.
  • New and cost-effective techniques to monitor spring flow rates and ecosystem responses have been developed. These techniques are capable of providing the information that is needed for informed management decisions.
  • The biodiversity value of the iconic GAB springs has been reinforced through genetic analyses, which identified 25 new species of invertebrates that are endemic to the springs. The springs are already known to support rare and endangered ecological communities that are recognised under the EPBC Act.
  • Finally, the project has developed a risk assessment framework to assess the response of GAB springs and their unique ecosystems to reductions in aquifer pressure, either from long-term natural decline or human impacts.

The project produced a report series containing seven volumes, including a summary volume (Volume VII):

Volume I

Allocating Water and Maintaining Springs in the Great Artesian Basin: Hydrogeological Framework of the Western Great Artesian Basin

Volume II

Allocating Water and Maintaining Springs in the Great Artesian Basin: Groundwater Recharge, Hydrodynamics and Hydrochemistry of the Western Great Artesian Basin

Volume III

Allocating Water and Maintaining Springs in the Great Artesian Basin: Groundwater Discharge of the Western Great Artesian Basin

Volume IV

Allocating Water and Maintaining Springs in the Great Artesian Basin: Spatial Survey and Remote Sensing of Artesian Springs of the Western Great Artesian Basin

Volume V

Allocating Water and Maintaining Springs in the Great Artesian Basin: Groundwater-dependent Ecosystems of the Western Great Artesian Basin

Volume VI

Allocating Water and Maintaining Springs in the Great Artesian Basin: Risk Assessment Process for Evaluating Water Use Impacts on Great Artesian Basin Springs

Volume VII

Allocating Water and Maintaining Springs in the Great Artesian Basin: Summary of findings for natural resource management of the Western Great Artesian Basin.