Inland Waters Theme Report

Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Prepared by: Jonas Ball, Sinclair Knight Merz Pty Limited, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06750 7

Water resources (continued)

Groundwater resources (continued)

Responses: Groundwater management and policy

  • National groundwater management
  • Borehole capping
  • Messages about groundwater management and policy
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    National groundwater management

    All states and territories have recently defined GMUs, but the level of management in the GMUs varies. National policy on groundwater is still in the process of being formulated, with recent national developments including the defining of 'sustainable yield' for groundwater. Groundwater-dependent ecosystems (e.g. hanging swamps, some wetlands, the hyporheic zone) are also under evaluation, and methodologies for determining sustainable yield and defining environmental water provisions for these ecosystems are yet to be formulated. Increased monitoring of groundwater use and levels is also important to ensure the most accurate data are used in estimating sustainable yields. It is estimated that less than 10% of groundwater bores are metered, with metering only occurring in 14% of GMUs (NLWRA 2001).

    Some states and territories have released new groundwater management policies in the last 5 years. These generally emphasise the need to manage groundwater in a sustainable manner and are focused on licensing requirements. Almost all states have new water resource legislation that underpins policy.

    ARMCANZ has recently begun several policy initiatives designed to improve groundwater management in Australia. Groundwater management is lagging behind surface water management and national water reforms are not being seriously applied by the states and territories to groundwater management. Two policy position papers have recently been developed which deal with the issue of over-extraction and over-allocation of resources. These papers are in draft form and as yet have not been endorsed by ARMCANZ.

    The first, 'Over-allocated Groundwater - A National Framework for Managing Over-allocated Groundwater Systems', has 13 recommendations designed to provide policy guidance for the states grappling with the serious issue of how to reduce the licensed volumes of over-allocated groundwater aquifers. Associated with this policy paper is a 'Best Management Practice Manual' which suggests a broad range of approaches that are available to groundwater managers to reduce allocations and use.

    The second paper, 'A National Framework for Promoting Groundwater Trading', identifies the fundamental requirements for trading of groundwater, as well as the impediments to groundwater trading. The 13 recommendations address both the pre-conditions for trading and the requirement for a trading regime to operate. Methods to encourage trading are identified, as are the benefits of groundwater trading. The disadvantages of trading in over-used systems are also identified.

    These policy responses, along with existing work such as the bore capping program in the Great Artesian Basin, will also enhance management of groundwater resources and allow for sustainable use of groundwater resources.

    Borehole capping [IW Indicator 1.3]

    Borehole capping is important for artesian groundwater bores that flow freely, as often much of the water from these bores is wasted. Throughout Australia there are many artesian bores that require capping to prevent the loss of the resource. Uncapped bores can result in a loss of pressure and reduction in flows over time. This can affect dependent ecosystems such as biota in mound springs and other users of the aquifer. Water loss from earthen open channels used to transport groundwater is also considerable. This is a major issue in the Great Artesian Basin where state and federal programs have been launched to stem water loss from uncapped artesian bores (see Table 13) (Les Russell, pers. com. 2001). The Commonwealth Government has committed $31.8 million over 5 years to accelerate the repair of uncontrolled artesian bores and the replacement of wasteful open earthen bore drains with piped water reticulation systems through the Great Artesian Basin Sustainability Initiative (see This initiative is being delivered through state agencies and builds on the current programs providing incentives for bore rehabilitation and bore drain replacement. The initiative will assist with the implementation of key actions of the strategic management plan (GABCC 2000) being prepared by the Great Artesian Basin Consultative Council (see ). The strategic management plan has been endorsed by all jurisdictions in the Great Artesian Basin.

    Table 13: Number of bores capped in the Great Artesian Basin by states
    State/territory Number of uncontrollable bores capped pre-1996 Number of uncontrollable bores capped post-1996
    New South Wales 398 39
    Queensland 267 71
    SA 79 capped (controllable)
    79 plugged and abandoned
    25 capped (controllable)
    4 plugged and abandoned
    NT   2

    New South Wales and Queensland support works on pastoral bores only.
    South Australia has plugged and abandoned a large number of exploratory mining bores that were never fully capped or have deteriorated since their abandonment.
    New South Wales has a policy of capping and piping concurrently in the interests of capturing the full benefits (water and pressure savings) of works.
    Queensland is supporting capping programs only where there is an expectation of piping occurring within 5 years of the bore capping.
    South Australia has not done any piping to date, but is progressing to piping in 2001.
    There are no records of bores repaired privately - i.e. without the financial or technical assistance of government agencies. This is unlikely to be a significant figure, but should not be assumed to be zero.

    Source: Les Russell, Natural Resource Management Policy Division Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry 2001.

    Messages about groundwater management and policy
    • The current level of monitoring of groundwater use (through the metering of bores) is low and more comprehensive data are required to correctly estimate sustainable yields.
    • Commonly agreed methods for estimating sustainable yields and defining environmental water allocations for groundwater-dependent ecosystems are yet to be developed.
    • Some states and territories have released new groundwater management policies; however, generally groundwater management reform is lagging behind surface water reforms.