Great Artesian Basin

Map of the Great Artesian Basin

Map of the Great Artesian Basin
Great Artesian Basin map - PDF (PDF - 722.67 KB)

The Great Artesian Basin is one of the largest underground water reservoirs in the world. It underlies approximately 22 per cent of Australia — occupying an area of over 1.7 million square kilometres beneath the arid and semi-arid parts of Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and the Northern Territory.

Water issues in the Great Artesian Basin

Traditionally, artesian water that came to the surface under natural pressure was allowed to flow uncontrolled into open drains and creeks for distribution to stock. However, even in well-maintained drains, up to 95 per cent of this water can be wasted through evaporation and seepage.

It was recognised by the early 1900s that control over GAB groundwater was inadequate and there was a reduction in water pressure and volume due to the increasing number of free-flowing bores drilled.

Uncontrolled flow from bores and open earth bore drains in the Great Artesian Basin threatens the health of important groundwater-dependant ecosystems and continued access to artesian water by pastoralists. In addition, it has become difficult for new water users in or near the Great Artesian Basin to obtain access to groundwater resources. The waste of water is causing environmental damage through:

  • reduced pressure in some naturally occurring artesian springs
  • encouragement of the spread of pest plants and animals
  • land and water salinisation

Great Artesian Basin Sustainability Initiative

To assist in improving pressure in the Basin, the Australian, state and territory governments are funding the Great Artesian Basin Sustainability Initiative (GABSI). The program is aimed at addressing pressure decline in the Basin through the replacement of inefficient bore drains with pipeline reticulation systems. It is a 15 year program jointly funded by the Australian, New South Wales, South Australian and Queensland governments. The first five-year phase of the GABSI program began in 1999 to assist landholders accelerate work on capping uncontrolled artesian bores and replacing wasteful open earthen bore drains with pipes. A second five-year phase of GABSI began in 2004, with GABSI Phase 3 scheduled to commence in 2009. Phase 3 will also establish a Basin-wide monitoring network to improve the quality of information about the Basin and enable better management of whole of basin issues. The Northern Territory government is engaged in this latter part of GABSI.

Strategic Management Plan Review

The Strategic Management Plan, endorsed by the Australian, New South Wales, South Australian, Queensland and Northern Territory governments in 2000, is a 15 year strategic framework for responsible groundwater and related natural resource management in the Great Artesian Basin. The Australian and State/Territory governments are in the process of reviewing the Strategic Management Plan in preparation for a new Plan to be in place by late 2015 that will guide governments, water users and other stakeholders on the management of the GAB water resources.

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