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 quality and sources of pollution (continued)

Groundwater pollution (continued)

Response: Management of groundwater pollution

  • Messages about groundwater pollution
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    Currently there is no national groundwater pollution monitoring program and limited state and territory groundwater monitoring. In the last decade, states and territories have significantly reduced their monitoring programs. Monitoring is generally driven by state and territory environmental protection agencies or by consultants for private industry and the government. Little work has been undertaken to investigate diffuse contamination.

    State and territory governments have developed policies aimed at minimising groundwater pollution and protecting groundwater resources. All states and territories recognise the wisdom of proactive protection of groundwater from pollution. Most states and territories also have detailed procedures and licensing to deal with contaminated sites and some have developed detailed protocols for groundwater investigation, sampling and testing. Nonetheless, measures to ensure compliance are under-resourced.

    At the national level, policy is being developed by ARMCANZ to improve groundwater quality protection. A draft paper for policy development 'Protecting Groundwater Quality - A National Framework for Improved Groundwater Quality Protection in Australia' (SKM 2000c) includes the following:

    • A policy discussion paper comprising eight recommendations for policy directions for improving future jurisdictional approaches to groundwater quality protection and its remediation. It is recognised that groundwater quality protection embraces many jurisdictions and government departments and a major effort in integrated planning is required.
    • A discussion of groundwater quality protection in Australia provides a review of the 1995 NWQMS Groundwater Protection Guidelines and an overview of current state policies, practices and issues. New policy ideas are discussed in detail.

    Regulatory measures (principally licensing) have been shown to be more effective for managing point-source groundwater pollution in comparison to diffuse groundwater pollution. The feasibility of developing a trading market to control diffuse groundwater pollution is discussed in LWRRDC 1997. Although, there were several viable market options, none of these have been developed in Australia to date.

    More groundwater monitoring is required to understand where groundwater pollution is occurring, and to understand the extent and changes in pollution. It is believed that groundwater pollution occurs frequently, and goes unmonitored and unmanaged in many parts of Australia. Groundwater protection needs to be proactive, as it is extremely difficult and expensive and often impractical to clean up contaminated groundwater. Protection of groundwater from pollution is far more cost effective.

    Messages about groundwater pollution
    • Nitrate contamination of groundwater is widespread throughout Australia and in many areas nitrate concentrations in groundwater exceed drinking water guidelines. The major causes of diffuse nitrate contamination are over-fertilisation of agricultural land, clearfelling and grazing.
    • Diffuse pesticide contamination of groundwater resources in some areas is significant, with pesticides detected in over 20% of samples from aquifers beneath intensively cropped land.
    • There is localised pollution of many urban aquifers by hydrocarbons from fuel stations, industrial facilities, landfills and old gasworks. Point-source pesticide contamination of urban and rural groundwater resources has also been recorded.
    • There are many other potential contaminants and sources of contamination of groundwater; however, little is known about their extent and impact. Groundwater pollution occurs over many decades and can take as long again to be detected and effectively managed.
    • Most state and territories have policy and regulations to minimise and manage groundwater pollution. However, resources to implement policy, monitor groundwater and ensure compliance with legislation have been reduced in many states and territories over the last decade and the impacts and extent of groundwater pollution is largely unknown. A national policy framework to protect groundwater quality is being developed.