For many years groundwater has been extensively used in non-coastal Queensland by wildlife and for personal use, irrigation and stock watering. Supplies, however, are on the decline including those in the Great Artesian Basin (GAB). Underlying extensive areas of western Queensland, the GAB contains billions of litres of water, some of which is up to over 2 million years old and is readily extracted far more easily than it is replenished.
The GAB is now subject to continuing and additional pressures. The possible threat of contamination from Coal Seam Gas (CSG) operations remains a major concern. According to the Great Artesian Basin Protection Group Inc to date over $500 million has been spent by governments and bore owners in an attempt to slow the depletion of the GAB and restore its diminishing pressure, both of which outcomes CSG operations have the potential to contribute to.
Currently both the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments are undertaking activities which will impact the GAB in the long term. Since June 2014 the Commonwealth has been updating its Strategic Management Plan (SMP) which expired in 2015 and is anticipated to be ready for consultation during 2017. Wildlife Queensland will take the opportunity to forward a submission after examining the draft, which it trusts will address the real challenges facing the long-term survival of the GAB and not simply the governance and extraction of waters.
The draft Queensland GAB Water Resource Plan (GAB WRP), with an expected release of early 2017 at the latest, is currently awaiting signoff by the Minister and is anticipated to meet the needs of the mining and unconventional gas (coal seam, shale and tight) industries.
Wildlife Queensland has been informed that funding for bore capping and piping under the Great Artesian Basin Sustainability Initiative (GABSI) program expires on 30 June 2017. There are still hundreds of bores to be rehabilitated and thousands of open bore drains to close and replace. New bores continue to be drilled – thousands of new gas wells are planned for the next decade and there is no plan in place to secure funding to deal with legacy issues. Ongoing maintenance of bores and delivery infrastructure – and the who and how to pay for it – are emerging as key issues.
Fortunately research has not been forgotten or ignored. In 2016 a workshop was held in Canberra to identify GAB research themes, with a forum to follow in 2017. Seven key areas of concern were identified:
- GAB water balance (this is the priority as it is now understood that the GAB is a declining resource and not in a ‘steady state’)
- Recharge estimation
- Connectivity above, below and between GAB aquifers
- Structural geology, tectonics, sub-basins (i.e.: water movement via faults)
- Springs and groundwater dependent ecosystems
- Hydrogeochemistry and groundwater flows
- Climate change and variability.
Wildlife Queensland trusts that funding will be forthcoming to address these significant issues and will ultimately assist in determining appropriate strategies to ensure the GAB continues to provide the water so essential to life and wildlife.
A watching brief is being kept on the relevant issues by Wildlife Queensland, whose views on the draft SMP and draft GAB WRP will be published in due course. Supporters will be encouraged to lend their voices to the cause so that our wildlife and the generations to come may continue to enjoy the benefits of the iconic GAB well into the future.