For Australia to reach its full productive and economic potential, it will be crucial that we build a strong scientific understanding of our groundwater resources, and the knowledge to manage them sustainably and with long-term vision.
That was the message from Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister, Luke Hartsuyker, at the Australasian Groundwater Conference in Sydney today.
Speaking at the Conference, Minister Hartsuyker said that, while there had been good progress in understanding and managing Australia's groundwater resources, there was still more work to do to meet contemporary challenges.
"Groundwater is integral to our national water security and economic growth. It supplies more than 30 per cent of our consumptive water supplies and underpins many billions in economic activity each year," Minister Hartsuyker said.
"However, there are a number of contemporary and emerging challenges that will require rigorous groundwater science, management and policy if we are to manage them effectively.
"For example, in managing our groundwater resources going forward, we must consider issues such as impacts of mining and unconventional gas developments; balancing competing water use from different industries and sectors; and build our knowledge of techniques, such as managed aquifer recharge with potential to supplement surface water storages.
"It will also be important for us to consider the role of groundwater in urban and rural water security, and the potential impacts of climate variability on groundwater availability and quality.
"This government is committed to addressing these challenges, and recently realised one of the key commitments under the 2004 National Water Initiative to develop a National Groundwater Strategic Framework to support better, nationally consistent management of groundwater resources.
"We are working to secure the future of key groundwater resources, such as the Great Artesian Basin, where we are building on the $124 million invested under the Great Artesian Basin Sustainability Initiative with a further $8 million to modernise water infrastructure. We are also working to secure an enduring partnership funding model for supporting infrastructure improvements in the Basin into the future.
"We are also investing in initiatives to build the scientific knowledge base about our groundwater resources, including several through Geoscience Australia.
"This includes funding of $30.4 million to extend the world-leading Bioregional Assessments Programme to assess any potential impacts on waterways and aquifers from unconventional gas projects.
"In addition, we have delivered $30.8 million to Geoscience Australia to manage the groundwater component of the Exploring for the Future programme—a four-year geoscience data and information collection programme that will focus on addressing groundwater resource knowledge gaps, to underpin future opportunities for irrigated agriculture, mineral and energy development, and community water supply.
"Looking to the future, through the $500 million National Water Infrastructure Development Fund we have funded a number of feasibility studies across the country looking at managed aquifer recharge, including in Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia, as a way to support sustainable agricultural development.
"We have also provided $15 million to the CSIRO for a Northern Water Resource Assessment to help us understand the potential of the north's water resources, including groundwater, so we can reach our full productive and economic potential in a sustainable and future-driven way."
Minister Hartsuyker spoke at the Australasian Groundwater Conference on 11 July 2017. More information on the Conference is available at groundwater.com.au/agc17