Issue Paper 1
National Groundwater Committee
Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004
About the Issue Paper
It has been known for many decades that water in the hydrological cycle is in a continuum between the various parts of the cycle, and development or contamination of one component will impact on the other parts of the cycle. Surface water rights are also potentially affected when groundwater extraction has an impact on the timing and volume of surface water flows. Yet groundwater and surface water have traditionally, and generally continue, to be managed separately in Australia.
Major developed groundwater systems with identified connections to surface water resources have been mapped for inland NSW (Braaten and Gates, 2002). Similar connections exist in all States but the spatial and temporal information is not readily available. Recent work for the Murray-Darling Basin Commission shows that growth of groundwater usage in the Basin from 1993/94 to 2002 represents a 2% undermining of the Cap by capturing baseflow. This amount is expected to grow in the coming years. Failure to appreciate the connection between surface and groundwater has resulted in major rivers and streams in the United States, the United Kingdom, China and other countries drying up because of large groundwater pumping.
The separate management arrangements for surface and groundwater that exist across much of Australia are artificial and, in some important groundwater resources, detrimental to good natural resource management and nett community interest.
With a maturing of natural resource management in Australia, there has been a move towards integrated natural resource management across catchments. However there remains much to be done, with policy settings, institutional arrangements and lack of understanding of surface and groundwater connectivity of specific resources, being some of the major impediments.