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Great Artesian Basin Economic Report

In 2016 the Australian government, on advice from the Great Artesian Basin Coordinating Committee (GABCC), commissioned a report to provide clarity around current and future water use and users in the Great Artesian Basin (GAB) and the value of the industries or sectors dependent on Basin water. 

The report ‘Economic output of groundwater dependent sectors in the Great Artesian Basin’ will help the GABCC to improve stakeholder understanding of economic activity within the GAB and allow the committee to provide more informed advice to GAB governments. 

It will be a useful resource for GAB stakeholders, and will assist development of policies, funding options and incentives for continued renewal and replacement of Basin water infrastructure.  It will also help inform the development of a new Strategic Management Plan for the Basin.

Economic output of groundwater dependent sectors in the Great Artesian Basin report

Report Summary

The Great Artesian Basin is one of the largest underground freshwater reservoirs in the world.  It underlies approximately 22% of Australia – occupying an area of over 1.7 million square kilometres beneath arid and semi-arid parts of Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and the Northern Territory.  Approximately 70% of the Basin lies within Queensland.

The Great Artesian Basin is a highly valued water resource which provides diverse benefits and opportunities.  The provision of drinking water through domestic bores and town water supply has been essential to the development of regions within the Basin and is used in more than 120 towns and settlements.  Most of the economic activity in the Great Artesian Basin regions is dependent on access to Basin water resources, and without this water economic development in many areas would not have been able to occur.

The estimated consumptive use of GAB water is integral to at least $12.8 billion of production annually.  The consumptive water uses by stock (pastoral and intensive), irrigation, mining, electricity and gas industries are all of high economic value.  The use of Basin water resource adds economic value to regional resources (land and minerals), and underpins much of the economic activity and employment across the region.

Significant public and private funds have been spent on developing and protecting the Basin water resource to support its economic, social and environmental values.  On-farm investment has been significant with a total of 34,951 bores in the Basin.  The vast majority of these bores are less than 200 metres deep, however some bores are deeper than 1200 metres.

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.  Tourist attractions and developments across the Basin rely on artesian water pressure being maintained. 

While the report focuses on the economic uses of groundwater in the Basin, it also identifies other significant values which need to be protected.  Aboriginal cultural values of groundwater-dependent sites need to be identified and protected, in the face of current development pressures placed on the Basin.

The Basin is also important environmentally and its unique ecosystems are home to a host of native plant and animal species, many of which are not found anywhere else in the world.  As some springs have dried up, the communities of native species which depend on the natural discharge of groundwater have been declared as endangered ecological communities under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999.

GAB management will be challenged by new or increased water demand from new or expanding industries.  Key issues in the management of Basin water resources include: the limited information available; limited opportunities to reallocate water use between existing uses and from existing to new uses; and the high degree of uncertainty associated with the volume of water extracted as a by-product of coal seam gas production.