National Water Quality Management Strategy: Guidelines for Groundwater Protection in Australia
Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council
Agriculture and Resource Management Council of Australia and New Zealand - September 1995
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These guidelines are part of the National Water Quality Management Strategy. The objective of these guidelines is to provide a framework for protecting groundwater from contamination in Australia. This framework will enable each State, Territory and the Commonwealth to develop policies and strategies which are tailored to their specific legislative and resource management situations.
One million people in 600 communities around Australia enjoy great benefits from their groundwater resources. Groundwater is an important source of water for major cities, industries and rural towns. For many isolated communities and rural properties, their very existence relies on the availability of good groundwater. Many features on our landscape, such as wetlands and lakes, are directly linked to the groundwater beneath.
A benchmark report. The Status of Groundwater Contamination and Regulation in Australia, was published in 1990. The report showed that for most of the States and Territories there was adequate legislation available to protect groundwater, even if it was fragmented across several areas of government in some States and Territories. However, little protective action was actually taking place.
The protection framework outlined in these guidelines involves the identification of specific beneficial uses and values for every major aquifer, i.e. the classification of groundwater bodies. Depending upon specific circumstances, there are a number of protection strategies which can emerge to protect each aquifer, but all involve monitoring. A public planning process is required in order to examine possible options and select the best set of strategies. The protection strategies which emerge will mainly be pro-active in nature but some current problems will also require remedial action.
The major types of protection strategies are classified into three 'legislative' groups. First, there is a whole range of traditional groundwater management measures available, such as vulnerability maps, aquifer classification systems and wellhead protection plans. Secondly, there is a range of land-use planning measures which can help prevent contamination occurring at inappropriate locations. Finally, there is a variety of environmental protection measures emerging which tackle modern waste management problems in progressive ways. Nearly all protection strategies will rely on government intervention backed by community support.
Protection planning processes are at an early stage of evolution in Australia. These guidelines assist by providing a case example of the steps involved in developing a regional protection plan for groundwater. This case study aims to assist and guide managers and the community towards a successful outcome from their planning.
Finally, a national goal is set for all groundwater managers in Australia. The goal is for all States Territories and the Commonwealth to have a beneficial use classification in place for all significant aquifers by the end of the decade. Consequently, this goal will help ensure that the first step is talon towards adequately planning for the protection of Australia's groundwater resource.