While at least 16 million hectares across northern Australia is potentially suitable for irrigated agriculture, access to water remains a key constraint on economic development in a region comprising 40 percent of Australia’s land mass. In recognition of the challenges and opportunities facing many stakeholders, the Australian Government initiated the Northern Australia Water Resource Assessment. The Assessment comprises ten research disciplines (activities) to provide a comprehensive overview and integrated evaluation of the feasibility, economic viability and sustainability of water and agricultural development in key parts of the north. CSIRO researchers in the groundwater hydrology activity are partnering with communities, consultants and three State and Territory jurisdictions. We will provide comprehensive assessments of both opportunities for, and risks associated with, groundwater resource development in three priority regions: the Fitzroy River catchment (WA), the Mitchell River catchment (Qld) and four river catchments located around Darwin (NT).
Many aquifers in northern Australia underlay vast geographical areas where water resources are unallocated and existing groundwater infrastructure is sparse. The lack of infrastructure and hydrogeological information has limited past assessments of groundwater in northern Australia and hindered assessments of development potential. The groundwater hydrology activity is collecting a range of data through a combination of targeted field investigations and desktop analyses. New data collected from field investigations will include groundwater and surface water sampling, water level monitoring, drilling and geophysics. New and historical data will be used to refine conceptual models of key aquifer systems in each region. Analytical and numerical modelling will be used to estimate the scale of groundwater development opportunities in each region. Overall, the activity will provide all levels of government and stakeholders with appropriate understanding of the groundwater resource development opportunities and constraints in each region, whilst also providing tools and information to assist with future water planning.