How to support vibrant communities, thriving economies and agribusinesses with a secure access to groundwater on a drying continent?
Australia's groundwater resources support communities, industries and the environment across the country. With our highly variable surface water supply and decreasing rainfall across large parts of the continent, groundwater resources are increasingly becoming a lifeline for many Australian communities and industries.
Indeed, in many parts of the country, groundwater is the only reliable water supply available to support towns, including large cities, such as Perth, agriculture (pastoral activities and irrigation) and the resources sector, including large mining developments.
Groundwater is a finite resource. Pressure on our groundwater resources is mounting as a result of a warmer, and in some places drier, climate, expanding agricultural developments and large-scale mining and unconventional gas extraction. CSIRO develops science-based solutions to inform decision-making around groundwater resource developments and its long-term management.
We investigate the ways groundwater can contribute to make our water-dependant cities and economies become more drought resilient. Protection of our groundwater-dependant environments is a central focus.
Understanding our groundwater systems
Our Groundwater Management group seeks to better understand groundwater resources and develop fit-for-purpose products both for immediate interventions and longer-term developments. Our multi-disciplinary teams develop novel solutions through a combination of:
- adaptation of remote sensing techniques to solving groundwater management questions
- data analytics (including artificial intelligence and big data analytics)
- data worth analysis
- model-data-assimilation, including those for data-poor areas
- modelling of groundwater flow in complex often large-scale hydrogeological settings;
- integration of environment and social aspects to groundwater management solutions
- complex assessments aiming for groundwater resources enhancement (e.g. Managed Aquifer Recharge to artificially replenish the resource)
Working domestically and overseas
Our expertise has been applied across a range of water resource management challenges, aimed at securing water for communities, agriculture and industry while protecting the environment. Typical applications include:
- assessing the current and future status of groundwater resources in major groundwater basins. This is based on improved quantification of groundwater recharge, aquifer connectivity, surface and groundwater interaction and an aquifer’s environmental functions. This ensures greater certainty about the resource is achieved (NAWRA)
- identifying and characterising new groundwater resources in small-scale groundwater systems in data-poor areas, their sustainable yields and suitability for local water supply (e.g. Norfolk Island; Musgrave Province, South Australia; and the Karratha-Heathland, the Pilbara, WA)
- assessing the cumulative impacts of industrial development on groundwater resources and groundwater dependent ecosystems (e.g. coal mining, CSG, shale gas)
- interaction of groundwater and coastal environment
- assessing groundwater vulnerability to water quality changes due to anthropogenic factors (hydraulic fracturing chemicals, PFAS) and designing the most cost-effective clean-up strategies
- integrated modelling of surface water and groundwater in major river basins as a basis for improved management (MDB Basin Plan)
- complex system modelling incorporating social and environmental constraints to groundwater management decisions (Chile projects, Peel Integrated Water Initiative project)
- development of new monitoring systems to assess effectiveness of groundwater management actions (such as the application of inSAR technologies)
- managed aquifer recharge (NAWRA)
Through our international projects and engagements across South-East Asia, South America and Europe, we build enduring partnerships and expertise that will benefit domestic applications.
We have been leading several of the world's largest basin-scale investigations into the impacts of groundwater extraction, climate change and other factors on Australia’s groundwater and surface water resources:
- Sustainable Yields projects (Murray-Darling, Northern Australia, South-west Western Australian, Tasmania and Great Artesian Basins)
- Flinders and Gilbert Agricultural Resource Assessment
- Pilbara Water Resource Assessment
- Sustainable Development Investment Portfolio projects
To better understand the risks from coal seam gas and large mining developments, the Commonwealth Department of The Environment and Energy had commissioned several knowledge projects on topics such as:
- changes in dynamics and aquifer interconnectivity (Hydrology Theme)
- water-related risks to environmental health (Chemicals Theme)
- national assessment of chemicals associated with coal seam gas extraction in Australia (Chemicals Theme)
Following the Bioregional Assessment program, we are currently engaged in the multidisciplinary Geological and Bioregional Assessment Program, which is assessing cumulative impacts from shale and tight gas development on water and the environment in the Cooper, Beetaloo and Isa GBA regions.