Australia is the driest inhabited continent and the highest per capita user of water. As such, the Groundwater Sector plays a critical role in national water security, contributing an $6.8bn1per annum to Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Groundwater represents 17 per cent of available fresh water within Australia and is essential for providing increased supply during periods of drought for agriculture and community consumption in many parts of the country. In addition, many mineral and energy deposits occur in remote areas where groundwater is the only secure local water source.

In northern Australia, groundwater resources and water banking/aquifer storage provide significant opportunity to underpin economic expansion due to the limitations posed by the seasonal nature of surface water, the limited availability of surface dam sites, and high evaporation rates that rapidly deplete surface storages. However, there are major gaps in our knowledge of groundwater systems and resources in northern Australia. The groundwater component of the Exploring for the Future program focused on addressing these knowledge gaps, to underpin future opportunities for irrigated agriculture, mineral and energy development, and community water supply.

The program comprised both targeted regional investigations and analysis of groundwater prospectivity more broadly across northern Australia. Five regional areas were selected for new targeted geoscience studies in East Kimberly, Northern Stuart Corridor (Howard East and Daly River Basin), Southern Stuart Corridor (Tennant Creek to Alice Springs), Upper Burdekin, and the Surat and Galilee basins.

The groundwater investigations involved the collection, interpretation and delivery of a range of new pre-competitive hydrogeological, geophysical, geospatial and remote sensing datasets to map the near-surface geology and groundwater systems in selected regions, as well as assessing any potential salinity hazards associated with resource development.

Geoscience Australia is working with a range of stakeholders, including state and territory government agencies, local councils, pastoral leaseholders, local indigenous groups, and Land Councils to deliver the program.

1 Deloitte Access Economics, National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training, October 2013, Economic Value of Groundwater in Australia, Accessed 6 November 2017.