Wetlands Australia National Wetlands Update February 2013

Issue No. 22, February 2013
ISSN 1446-4843

Mapping groundwater dependent ecosystems in Queensland

Queensland Government and the National Water Commission

This artesian spring in central Queensland provides critical habitat for the red-finned blue-eye (Scaturiginichthys vermeilipinnis), a fish species only known to exist in five small freshwater springs. Major threats to this nationally and state listed endangered fish include declining aquifer pressure resulting in declining spring flows and introduced mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki).
(Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection)

Groundwater is not only an important water source to meet human consumptive needs, it also plays a critical role in supporting many ecosystems. A new mapping project is providing information for decision makers to help manage environmental assets that are interrelated to or dependent on groundwater.

Groundwater dependent ecosystems (GDEs) are a sub-set of all natural ecosystems, specifically GDEs are those ecosystems that require access to groundwater on a permanent or intermittent basis to meet all or some of their water requirements to maintain their communities of plants and animals, ecological processes and ecosystem services. GDEs may include springs, lakes, palustrine wetlands, rivers, aquifers, caves and terrestrial vegetation.

Demand for Queensland's water resources is increasing due to the combined pressures of development, a variable climate and a growing population. The availability of surface water to meet consumptive needs has declined and the pressure on groundwater resources is growing.

Extraction of groundwater and changes in land use pose risks to GDEs. The ability to protect GDEs is reliant on their accurate identification which, to date, has been constrained by the lack of comprehensive mapping and data. To address this knowledge gap, the Queensland Government and the National Water Commission funded the Queensland GDE Mapping Project as part of a project to further develop the National Atlas of GDEs.

The National Atlas of GDEs was compiled to ensure a complete coverage of GDE mapping for Australia by combining nation-wide layers of satellite remote sensing data with previous fieldwork, literature and mapping.

The Queensland GDE Mapping Project used a bottom-up approach to engage a broad range of experts in aquatic ecology, biodiversity, botany, geology, geographic information systems, groundwater, hydrogeology, hydrology, remote sensing, resource assessment, soil science, water planning and wetlands. Expert knowledge on the interrelationships between groundwater and ecosystems at a fine scale was captured in intensive two-day multidisciplinary workshops and combined with regional ecosystem and wetland datasets to map the extent of GDEs.

Intensive multidisciplinary GDE mapping workshop in Mackay, Queensland.
(Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection)

To date, workshops have been held in Brisbane, Toowoomba, Bundaberg and Mackay. GDE mapping is complete in three catchments in the eastern Murray-Darling Basin region and seven catchments in the Wide Bay-Burnett region. GDE mapping has begun for a further five catchments in the Mackay-Whitsundays region.

Queensland GDE mapping and supporting information will enable all decision makers responsible for the protection of GDEs, including state and regional agencies, to access relevant knowledge. Furthermore, GDE mapping will be available to all stakeholders to assist in managing water resources with consideration of the ecological requirements of key environmental assets.

All information, maps and conceptual models developed through the Queensland GDE Mapping Project will soon be hosted on WetlandInfo  - the Queensland Wetlands Program's first-stop-shop for wetlands resources and tools.