Source: Arthur Mostead
Groundwater is water that is found beneath the surface of the earth and makes up 98% of the Earth's available freshwater. To put it another way, groundwater is about 60 times as plentiful as freshwater found in lakes and streams.
Groundwater comes from two main sources. When it rains water seeps down through the soil until it reaches an aquifer. These aquifers may also be in contact with rivers and streams allowing these surface waters to 'drain' into the aquifer. In some places these aquifers can also supply water to rivers and streams.
An aquifer is a body of water-saturated sediment or rock in which water can move readily. Water in the ground travels slowly through pores or fractures depending on the type of sediment or rock material that the aquifer is made of.
There are 2 main types of aquifers, unconfined and confined. An unconfined aquifer is exposed to the surface of the land. A confined aquifer, is an aquifer that has a confining layer that separates it from the land surface.
The depth of the water below the surface is known as the water table.
Groundwater is available throughout large parts of Australia and is the only source of water for many communities in semi-arid and arid zones. A major groundwater resource in Australia is the Great Artesian Basin - the largest groundwater reserve of its type in the world. The Great Artesian Basin is an example of a confined aquifer, covering 22% of the Australian continent and contains water that is up to two million years old.
Although it is less visible than surface water supplies in rivers, lakes and dams, groundwater is a finite resource. It is only replenished when rainfall or surface water seeps into aquifers. If the amount of groundwater removed is more than the amount going in, aquifers are depleted. This undermines efforts to manage stressed surface water resources due to their interconnection and has adverse consequences for communities, agriculture and industry. Due to their nature, aquifers can become contaminated and need to be protected.
- Groundwater and aquifers (National Water Commission)
- Groundwater-surface water connectivity (National Water Commission)
- Sustainable management of groundwater (National Water Commission)
- Groundwater quality (National Water Commission)
Groundwater management is currently the responsibility of state and territory governments. The Australian Government, however, is seeking to provide leadership and coordination for groundwater policy reforms and a focus for resolution of cross-jurisdictional issues.
Australian Government Programs that address groundwater include:
- National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training
- Great Artesian Basin Sustainability Initiative (GABSI)
- Water Smart Australia
- Raising National Water Standards (National Water Commission)
- Groundwater Action Plan (National Water Commission)
- Bundaberg groundwater rescue feasibility study and preliminary design (Water Smart Australia project)
- Groundwater management: integrated water resource management in the South East of South Australia (Water Smart Australia project)
- Advancing knowledge of groundwater in the Mount Lofty Ranges, Northern Adelaide Plains and Kangaroo Island (Water Smart Australia project)
- Beenyup reverse osmosis groundwater replenishment project (Water Smart Australia project)
- Restoration of groundwater aquifer on the Cottesloe Peninsula (Water Smart Australia project)
- Gulf water study - Smart use of scientific and indigenous knowledge systems for effective management of healthy groundwater and Rivers (Water Smart Australia project)
- National perspective on the magnitude of river - groundwater interaction (Water Smart Australia project)
- Groundwater projects funded via the Raising National Water Standards program (National Water Commission)
- National groundwater action plan (National Water Commission)
- Allocation and use of groundwater: National framework for improved groundwater management in Australia
- Assessment of Groundwater Resources in the Broken Hill Region
- National Water Quality Management Strategy Guidelines for Ground Water
- Managed aquifer recharge: An introduction (National Water Commission)
- Subsurface groundwater-dependent ecosystems (National Water Commission)
- Pre-feasibility assessment of managed aquifer recharge in the Botany aquifer (National Water Commission)
- Water Down Under - Understanding and Managing Australia's Great Artesian Basin
For up-to-date information about the Water for the Future initiative.