Drawing on the Great Artesian Basin

One of the nation’s leading water experts says more work is needed in the Great Artesian Basin (GAB) to ensure a water supply for the future.

The GAB is one of the largest artesian groundwater basins in the world – underlying one-fifth of Australia and most of Queensland.     It provides water for much of Queensland’s pastoral industry and for many inland towns.

Professor Peter Cullen is the CEO of the Cooperative Research Centre for Freshwater Ecology and the chairman of the Victorian Water Trust Advisory Council. He says Queensland has a wonderful asset in the Great Artesian Basin and it should be managed carefully.

“If you overdraw on it… what you’re going to find is that people are going to have to put pumps down to start accessing the ground water and that immediately changes the economics and all the rest of it, so it’s a question of protecting and sustaining the resource you’ve got, where the water comes up under natural pressure,” Professor Cullen said.

He says that the piping and capping scheme in the GAB has been a success story but there are still places where the capping and piping has not gone as far as it needs to.

“The pressure could still be dropping and of course there are other risks in the GAB from time to time in that mining developments see it as a potential source of water for mining activity and again I think that needs to be managed very carefully.”

Professor Cullen also says there shouldn’t be any more new bores until it can be demonstrated that it is not going to be taking water from other people.

“If you just have a free for all, grabbing at whatever ground water’s there, they’ll all dry up. So I think a prudent government should be managing a resource like this to make sure that this wonderful natural asset that you’ve got, is there for the future and future generations,” he said.

Professor Cullen says water meters for all GAB bores are also on the agenda.

“You can’t manage a resource unless you know what’s there and part of that is how much has been taken out,” he said.

“I’m advocating a national approach to managing our ground water seriously and that means controlling who can take it and measuring how much they take.”

‘Over-simplification’

John Seccombe is a grazier from Longreach and a former chairman of the Great Artesian Basin Consultative Committee. He says it is an over-simplification to say there should be no new bores or that all bores should be metered.

“The management structures of water resources in both the Commonwealth and state areas do know what the water resources are, they do know what the volumes are and they do know what the extraction rates are,” Mr Seccombe said.

“The issue is not so much that we should be restraining stock and domestic bore numbers, but it is restraining the outflow.”

Mr Seccombe does not believe that the bore drain replacement scheme has had enough resources thrown at it and says it is running behind with targets set in the 2001 Great Artesian Basin strategic management plan.

“They’re certainly behind with those targets for rehabilitating bores and one of the reasons is they just don’t have the physical number of people to administer the scheme or to assist landholders with finance,” he said.

“It is ludicrous to think that on one hand they are letting bores run freely and on the other hand they are restricting access to the basin.”

And he believes that meters on the thousands of bores in the GAB would be costly and impractical.

“You need a lot more people employed to read and maintain these meters. All these things cost money and the landholders will be the ones to bear that cost.”

Mr Seccombe says it is easy enough to calculate how much water is being used from a bore from how many stock are accessing it.

But he says water meters are certainly required for regulated water supplies from the GAB that is for commercial like mines and power stations.

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