Great Artesian Basin

​​​The Great Artesian Basin (GAB) is one of the largest underground water reservoirs in the world. It underlies approximately 22% of Australia—occupying more than 1.7 million square kilometres beneath the arid and semi-arid parts of Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and the Northern Territory.

Great Artesian Basin—map [PDF – 722 KB]

See description above.

Water issues in the Great Artesian Basin

Water emerges naturally from the Basin through cracks in the rock encasing the water, into springs, shallow water tables or into creeks and rivers creating a permanent water source even during dry periods. Most springs and leakages occur on the edges of the Basin where water is close to the surface.

It was recognised by the early 1900s that control over GAB groundwater was inadequate and there was a reduction in water pressure and volume due to the increasing number of bores drilled that were allowed to flow uncontrolled into open drains and creeks for distribution to stock. However, even in well-maintained drains up to 95% of this water can be wasted through evaporation and seepage.

Uncontrolled flow from bores and open earth bore drains in the GAB threatens the health of important groundwater-dependent ecosystems and continued access to artesian water by pastoralists.

In addition, it has become difficult for new water users in or near the GAB to obtain access to groundwater resources.

The waste of water is causing environmental damage through:

  • reduced pressure in some naturally occurring artesian springs
  • encouragement of the spread of pest plants and animals
  • land and water salinisation.

Interim Great Artesian Basin Infrastructure Investment Programme

On 12 May 2017 the Australian government announced $8 million in funding for water infrastructure improvements in the Great Artesian Basin for two years to 2018-19.  The funding will help continue the delivery of important water infrastructure upgrades, by capping free flowing bores and replacing inefficient open bore drains with modern piped reticulation systems.

Over the life of the interim arrangement the Australian government will work with Great Artesian Basin state and territory governments and other stakeholders to develop a new, sustainable, enduring funding model.

Great Artesian Basin Strategic Management Plan Review

The Strategic Management Plan, endorsed by the Australian, New South Wales, South Australian, Queensland and Northern Territory governments in 2000, is a strategic framework for responsible groundwater and related natural resource management in the GAB.

The Australian and state/territory governments have completed the review of the Strategic Management Plan. The outcomes from the review document ‘Future Directions for the Management of the Great Artesian Basin’ was used to guide the development of a new plan commencing in late 2015.

Great Artesian Basin Sustainability Initiative

To assist in improving pressure in the Basin, the Australian, New South Wales, South Australian and Queensland governments are funding the Great Artesian Basin Sustainability Initiative (GABSI). The program is aimed at addressing pressure decline in the Basin through the replacement of inefficient bore drains with pipeline reticulation systems.

The first 5-year phase of the GABSI program began in 1999 to assist landholders accelerate work on capping uncontrolled artesian bores and replacing wasteful open earthen bore drains with pipes. A second 5-year phase of GABSI began in 2004, with GABSI Phase 3 commencing in 2009 that also established a Basin-wide monitoring network to improve the quality of information about the Basin and enable better management of whole-of-basin issues. On 16 October 2014 GABSI Phase 4 commenced providing funding for an additional 3 years to 30 June 2017.

The Great Artesian Basin: Water in the dry interior teacher guide and lesson plans—lower secondary

This resource provides schools with curriculum lesson plans that focus on sustainable water use in a significant region of Australia.

The Great Artesian Basin: Water in the dry interior package provides lower secondary teachers with lesson plans shaped around a series of investigations that enable secondary school students to examine the natural environment and contemporary issues relevant to that region.

These resources are based around the curriculum areas of science and geography and may be implemented by classroom teachers using an interdisciplinary approach or as a science or geography focus.

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Further information