Palaeovalley Groundwater Resources

This project concluded 30 June 2012.

Background

The National Water Commission has contributed $4.935 million to address the knowledge and management gap which currently limits the use of a potential major source of groundwater (palaeovalley aquifers) in much of Australia. The understanding and national perspective generated through this national-scale work significantly improved Australia's capacity to assess groundwater resources in palaeovalley systems in the most cost-effective manner. The study facilitated successful monitoring and management of this valuable resource into the future. It especially benefited the drier areas of Australia which are almost entirely groundwater dependent.

With national water supply issues at the forefront of both government and public agenda in recent times, Geoscience Australia has been well placed to make a significant and lasting contribution to the exploration, understanding and management of palaeovalley groundwater resources within the arid and semi-arid zones.

Rounded reddish brown outcrop of Kata Tjuta beneath clouded skies. Abundant Desert Oak and spinifex in foreground.

The Dune Plains Palaeovalley, located
between Uluru and Kata Tjuta, forms part of
the larger Katiti Palaeovalley system in
Central Australia. Aquifers in this 100 metre
deep palaeovalley provide groundwater for
the Yulara tourist resort.

Computer-generated image of continental Australia as viewed from space overlain with network of mapped palaeovalley systems in WA, SA and the NT.

Distribution of palaeovalleys in arid and
semi-arid Australia.

Objectives

The overall objective of the Palaeovalley Groundwater Project was to develop an innovative and integrated national approach for understanding the capacity, quality, quantity and hydrological dynamics of groundwater contained in palaeovalleys across arid and semi-arid Australia.

Deliverables

This four year (2008-12) study has:

  • filled gaps in groundwater resource knowledge of arid and semi-arid Australia
  • improved methodologies for determining the characteristics, volumes and sustainability of groundwater resources in palaeovalley aquifers
  • evaluated the application of non-traditional groundwater assessment methods along with more conventional methods to assess palaeovalleys as aquifers and groundwater resources for remote communities, mining activities and other diverse stakeholders and water supply applications
  • developed a conceptual and spatial framework of key palaeovalley system types and associated groundwater scenarios in diverse arid and semi-arid regions
  • developed a national strategy to delineate and manage arid-zone palaeovalley resources in respective geologic provinces or regions
  • provided new datasets, maps and guidelines to State and Territory agencies, other water managers and communities to contribute to sustainable management and use of palaeovalley groundwater resources and associated ecosystems.

The study built on and complemented the work of the Australian Government's Onshore Energy Security Program led by Geoscience Australia.

Project implementation

Australia's Arid Zone Palaeovalley Study implemented four main work programs to achieve its objectives:

  • synthesis of existing data and information relating to distinguishing palaeovalley groundwater systems and resources, including national workshops with project partners to develop conceptual models of the key groundwater processes that occur in different geologic and climatic areas of Australia and in priority regions where such knowledge and water supplies are most urgently needed
  • evaluation of the most appropriate and cost-effective geoscientific and hydrogeological methods for determining the hydrogeological properties of palaeovalley groundwater systems across arid and semi-arid parts of Australia
  • development and demonstration of representative conceptual models at investigated field localities, through an integrated approach to groundwater resource quantification. This involved synthesis of existing data from mineral exploration and water resource investigations, and new information acquired from adapted remote sensing methods, diverse geophysical applications, targeted drilling and geochemical analyses. Major demonstration sites included the Paterson Province (Western Australia), the Gawler–Eucla region (South Australia), the Ti Tree Basin (Northern Territory), the Kintore–Lake Mackay area (Northern Territory) and the Murchison region (Western Australia)
  • extensive consultation to develop a national approach, national scope, and national scale information for delineating and managing groundwater in palaeovalleys across arid Australia.

Project outputs