Regional Australia needs greater water security
In Australia’s 2020 drought, the southern Queensland (QLD) towns of Stanthorpe and Clifton both ran out of water, reaching what is known as 'day zero'.
Another 50 other regional communities across New South Wales (NSW) and Qld came close, with less than 12 months of available water at the time.
Costs of carting water in this emergency were millions of dollars per day.
Irrigation water allocation prices have also skyrocketed during past droughts before declining to a small fraction following the 2011, 2012 and 2017 floods.
Perennial plantings, such as for almonds and citrus, are at particular risk if growers cannot afford to purchase water during droughts.
Storing water underground for future use
Water banking offers a solution to improve water security in regional Australia. It involves storing water underground using Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR) for future access when needed, under a water entitlement framework.
We’ve identified over 4 km3 of potential water storage opportunities in the Murray-Darling Basin, along with other suitable geographical locations around Australia. We’re driving further research and development (R&D) to see water banking initiatives developed in Australia.
The Mission is leading efforts to secure water banking demonstration sites. We are concurrently looking at how best to store water underground, research to understand and mitigate safety and environmental risks, tailored MAR solutions to the need and location, as well as understanding the technical and non-technical barriers to adoption.
Our progress: driving water banking opportunities
In a 2022 Australasian Journal of Water Resources paper co-authored with AITHER and La Trobe University, we analysed the key enablers to operationalise water banking in the Murray Darling Basin. This builds on earlier work to understand the economics of different MAR systems.
Detailed opportunity maps are being developed with the NSW Department Planning and Environment and the National Water Grid Authority.
We are also working with partners such as the Northern Territory government to identify and characterise suitable new sites.
Long-term drought resilience
Water banking can provide long-term insurance against drought.
Greater water security will prevent towns from running out of water and repeat day zeros. It will also enable farmers to better manage water costs to improve their drought resilience.