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 $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 2016–20, Geoscience Australia’s Exploring for the Future program focused on northern Australia, where groundwater resources and water banking/aquifer storage provide significant opportunities 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. Harnessing groundwater opportunities requires thorough investigation of groundwater systems and resources. To do so the program comprised both targeted regional investigations and analysis of groundwater prospectivity more broadly across the region. 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.

The extended and expanded program will broaden its overall focus to include the whole of Australia. More detail will be published as it is confirmed.

1 Deloitte Access Economics, National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training, October 2013, Economic Value of Groundwater in Australia [PDF 1.2 MB], Accessed 6 November 2017.