Sheep at artesian bore, Cambridge Downs Station, Qld, c1894
Today, water from the Great Artesian Basin (GAB) sustains the lives of more than 180 000 people and 7600 enterprises.
Basin water is used in households in more than 120 towns and settlements and on hundreds of properties. The pastoral industry has long been the largest user of GAB water, however pastoral consumption has decreased under the various bore rehabilitation and bore drain replacement programs. Pastoral water use will continue to decrease as remaining bores are capped and more open bore drains are replaced with pipes and troughs.
Mining for copper, uranium, bauxite and opals depend on a reliable supply of artesian water from the GAB. The extraction of oil and gas from the GAB results in the simultaneous extraction of substantial amounts of artesian water as a waste product. Coal seam gas is a rapidly expanding industry, and likely to use large amounts of artesian water for the life of those projects. Once regarded as a waste, this 'associated' water is now seen as a potentially economically valuable resource.
The precise degree to which the waters of the GAB contribute to Australia's rural economy is difficult to know, but it is clear from the historical pattern of development of the basin area, and the dependence of some industries on groundwater supplies, that it is crucial to economic development.
Moree Hot Mineral Baths, Moree
Tourist attractions and developments across the Basin rely on artesian water. In some areas, artesian water is used in mineral spas and tourists are attracted by the cultural and natural history of springs that are developed as visitor sites.
For traditional owners of the Basin area, the springs across the vast arid interior were often the only assured source of water, and prime sites for hunting. The springs remain precious cultural and sacred sites and are still integral to ceremonies and stories. Artifacts and oral histories show that springs were often places for making and collecting tools and plant products that could be traded with other tribes along trade routes following the chain of springs. Some such sites are 12,000-20,000 years old. The ancient tools, rock art, burial places and scarred trees found around springs are protected by law.