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The challenge

Mapping and quantifying groundwater development opportunities in regional Australia

Land and water resources in many parts of regional Australia have not been mapped in sufficient detail to underpin reliable resource allocation, mitigate investment or environmental risks, or confidently build policy settings that can support decisions.

Depending on the climatic and hydrogeological settings, groundwater can be the most economical water resource for use in agricultural development when either development sites are too distant from surface water or surface water is ephemeral, unreliable, or in deficit. However, mapping and understanding the scale and coincidence between suitable soils and suitable groundwater resources is complex, especially in data sparse regions. It must take into account the risks of groundwater development when considering users, groundwater dependant ecosystems and surrounding saline aquitards/aquifers or seawater as well as the economics associated with groundwater development.

Our response

Combining field investigations, remote sensing and desktop analyses to underpin risk assessment models. Producing spatial products to underpin and inform decision making.

We undertake a detailed evaluation of existing data and knowledge. This helps us co-design multi-disciplinary and targeted field, desktop and modelling investigations in a range of hydrogeological settings at various scales with the aim to address key knowledge gaps.

Groundwater is increasingly being used for irrigation across parts of Australia

Our work includes:

  • co-designing and implementing hydrological measurement and monitoring programs to map groundwater and surface water flows
  • co-designing and conducting groundwater sampling for chemistry and environmental tracers to characterise and quantify groundwater flow processes
  • acquisition of high-resolution remotely sensed data to map land surface elevation
  • applications of airborne and near-surface geophysics to map the spatial extent and thickness of aquifers/freshwater lenses as well as the spatial occurrence of the freshwater-saltwater interface
  • mapping of opportunities for managed aquifer recharge and/or conjunctive use of different water sources
  • the development of three-dimensional geological models to provide the framework for a range of specific desktop analyses and modelling
  • analytical and numerical modelling including uncertainty analysis to evaluate cumulative hydrological impacts associated with future groundwater development and estimate the potential scale of the available groundwater resource to assist water allocation planning under changing external factors such urbanisation, land-use change, and climate change.

We engage with a range of stakeholders including government regulators, water utilities, industry partners such as agricultural enterprises, universities, consultants, landholders and Indigenous communities. We work in conjunction with our stakeholders to improve the understanding of the opportunities and constraints to developing groundwater for agriculture by providing scientific knowledge to underpin the future planning, investment and management of water resources.

The results

Mapping the opportunities for regional development at an unprecedented scale

Our research has resulted in a detailed evaluation of the feasibility, economic viability and sustainability of water resource development across large parts of northern Australia, Western Australia and elsewhere. The outputs from this work is currently being used to underpin the future management and investment in water resources and infrastructre in these regions where regional development is a key priority for all stakeholders.

Find more detail on some of our projects below:

Northern Australia

Northern Australia Water Resource Assessment: NAWRA project

Flinders and Gilbert Agricultural Resource Assessment: FGARA project

Western Australia

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