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Great Artesian Basin Sustainability Initiative (GABSI)

GABSI Phase 4

On October 2014 the Australian government announced the extension of the GABSI programme for an additional three years through to 30 June 2017.

A National Partnership Agreement (the Agreement) on the fourth and final phase of GABSI (GABSI 4) was agreed between the Commonwealth and the states of New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory in 2014. The Agreement promotes sustainable groundwater management systems for the Great Artesian Basin (the Basin) through strategic investments in groundwater infrastructure renewal and related activities.

In accordance with agreed Annual Implementation Plans, highly skilled state agency engineers and planners, in collaboration with field technician contractors, implement the bore rehabilitation and water reticulation work in partnership with the participating landholders.

Further information on the GABSI is available on the Department of the Agriculture and Water Resources website.

The Initiative

GABSI is an important whole-of-Basin investment program since commercial exploitation of the Basin's water and pressure resources began in 1878. It has delivered remarkable outcomes and continues to enjoy widespread support across its stakeholders. GABSI is a whole-of-Basin partnership between the Australian and state and territory governments and landholders to accelerate work to repair uncontrolled artesian bores and replace open earthen bore drains with piped water reticulation systems.

GABSI commenced in 1999, initially as a three-phase initiative involving joint investment by the Australian Government and the governments of Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Northern Territory, together with contributions from participating landholders.

GABSI has made a remarkably successful contribution toward realising sustainable management of Basin water and pressure resources. Up to end June 2013, 650 additional bores have been rehabilitated, more than 19,000 km of additional bore drains have been eliminated and more than 28,000 km of additional piping has been installed (along with associated tanks and troughs) to deliver water to stock. This has saved approximately 200,000 ML per year.

The Great Artesian Basin Coordinating Committee has developed a Briefing Note on the GABSI Program, its achievements and the future.

New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Northern Territory governments have produced a draft report on the Summary of past drilling activity within the Great Artesian Basin.

Free flowing bore drain, Queensland

Capped bore drain, Queensland

Great Artesian Basin Water Management

The groundwater of the Basin is under natural pressure, causing water to flow, through bores, to the surface over much of the Basin. Loss of water and pressure can occur within boreholes that are not properly cased, or those which do not have controllable headworks. For a bore to be cased means that it is 'lined', usually with steel or a plastic composite. This stops water from flowing into other aquifers (inter-aquifer transfer) and helps retain pressure. Headworks are a series of valves and pipes that are fitted to a bore above ground to enable the control of water flow. If these headworks are not fitted to an artesian bore, the bore will be allowed to flow freely and continue to waste water.

Once at the surface, it is estimated that between 85 to 95 per cent of water from stock bores is wasted through evaporation as the water flows overland in bore drains. These are open drains that distribute water across the landscape, following natural contours of the land. They have been the preferred stock watering method for many pastoralists for more than 100 years. An estimated two-thirds of the water extracted from the Basin is currently wasted. It is possible to stop this waste, improve water management and ensure that water supply and pressure are maintained for other users.

Several factors have contributed to the current unsustainable use of the Basin, including:

  • A significant component of groundwater infrastructure being based on ageing and inefficient technology, installed in an era with different community expectations with respect to industry development and environmental management
  • Regulatory arrangements having been unclear with respect to rights and responsibilities of water users and having not encouraged efficient water use
  • An inability or unwillingness of some water users to finance the upgrade of groundwater infrastructure.

Together, these factors suggest the need for more integrated and consistent approaches across the Basin.

Fact sheets