Great Artesian Basin


On 21 September 2015, responsibility for water policy and resources was transferred to the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources - Administrative Arrangement Order made on 21 September 2015.

This website will be updated to reflect these changes.

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 (GAB) 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

Water emerges naturally from the Basin through cracks in the rock encasing the water, into springs, shallow water tables or into creeks and rivers creating a permanent water source even during dry periods. Most springs and leakages occur on the edges of the Basin where water is close to the surface.

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 bores drilled that were 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.

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, New South Wales, South Australian and Queensland 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.

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 commencing in 2009 that also established a Basin-wide monitoring network to improve the quality of information about the Basin and enable better management of whole of basin issues. On 16 October 2014 GABSI Phase 4 commenced providing funding for an additional 3 years to 30 June 2017.

Great Artesian Basin 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 strategic framework for responsible groundwater and related natural resource management in the Great Artesian Basin. The Australian and State/Territory governments have completed the review of the Strategic Management Plan. The outcomes from the review document “Future Directions for the Management of the Great Artesian Basin" will be used to guide the development of a new Plan commencing in late 2015.

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