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Engagement – September 2023

Topics from the September 2023 webinar were on the NSW Groundwater Strategy, management, challenges and 20 year vision.

Macintyre River.

Water Engagement Roundup

The questions and answers from the Water Engagement Roundup webinar recorded on Wednesday 20 September 2023 will be published shortly. The topic for this webinar was the NSW Groundwater Strategy.

Watch the webinar

Wednesday, 20 September 2023. This month's update was on the NSW Groundwater Strategy, management, challenges and 20 year vision.

Questions and answers

How will the Groundwater Strategy address the paucity of information on groundwater dependent ecosystems across the state?

A. A program of work to improve Groundwater dependent ecosystems (GDE) information is being prepared. Methods to identify and evaluate GDE condition continue to improve. In particular remote sensing methods combined with other available datasets including groundwater monitoring are now being used to both define and monitor for change in condition. Additional investment via the IPART process has been sought to compliment additional research work to be undertaken in collaboration with project partners including universities, ANSTO and CSIRO.

How have the inland groundwater sources with permanent drawdown been addressed?

A. A review of groundwater level behaviour has been performed, out of this review, a number of consultations and actions were implemented. The department is looking at long term management options. Documentation on this topic is reported on the department’s Water website, Managing decline in groundwater levels.

I work with the Great Artesian Basin - is there anything in particular we need to consider?

A. The Groundwater Strategy does not have specific actions on the Great Artesian Basin (GAB), however a number of the objectives of the strategy will apply to the GAB. The GAB Strategic Management Plan has some guidance on directions at National scale. Ongoing evaluation of GAB springs is one of those projects that would be continuing, pressure monitoring, and water efficiencies would also be a priority.

How is new information (including re water table changes and actual/potential fracking impacts) factored into NSW water sharing plans to ensure sustainability not compromised.

A. For now, some plans have established rules that implement a change in access where water levels have fallen below or above certain thresholds. Groundwater trades rules also consider water table changes as part of the assessment of an application. Information on latest activity on water table changes can be found at Managing decline in groundwater levels. NSW Planning administer project approvals with reference to Coal Seam Gas activities. Fraccing is not permitted in NSW.

How will the increasing extraction demand for groundwater be controlled? Is there a future need to lower the entitlements of groundwater? Will water authorities stop the practise of over allocating groundwater?

A. Each water source as defined in relevant water sharing plan contain an extraction limit. Many of the aquifer systems across NSW, in particular the alluvial aquifer systems of the Murray Darling Basin are at the defined extraction limits and the take of water to control the take of water on an average annual basis is managed via available water determinations

What is going to be the general impact on ground water throughout the NSW Northern Tablelands Renewable Energy Zone once all the works are completed and during works as well.

A. Each renewable energy project is required to submit an impact assessment prior to project approval. The department administers the NSW Aquifer Interference Policy applying the 'minimal impact considerations' when providing agency advice to the consent authority. The department agency advice during the project approval stage is to ensure each project has no more than the Level 1 impacts as defined in the policy, or if exceeded, that the change in groundwater quality or level will not prevent the long-term viability of the dependent ecosystem, significant site or affected water supply works.

How is groundwater quality tested (if it is?) please?

A. The department is currently undertaking a groundwater quality sampling program across NSW. The Murray Darling Basin (MDB) groundwater sampling program commenced in July 2023 and is scheduled for completion in June 2024.

Funds to undertake further on-going monitoring beyond the federally funded agreement (FFA) MDB period is subject to the bid submitted under the IPART process.

During the 2023 FFA MDB sampling program:

  • primary samples were collected from 425 bores at 229 locations
  • non-valid samples were collected from outside the screen interval at 27 bores; these bores are to be resampled in 2024
  • 38 bores were not sampled due to access issues, damage or insufficient water.

For the 2024 FFA MDB sampling program a total of 130 bores are planned:

  • 82 bores sampled in 2023 will be sampled again in 2024
  • 27 bores sampled outside the screen interval in 2023 will be resampled
  • 21 new bores have been selected as detailed below.

A targeted bore selection process was conducted for key groundwater quality monitoring sites where previous water quality trends have been reported. 21 additional bores were selected in the following Groundwater Sources:

  • ten bores in the Upper Namoi Zone 3, Mooki Valley (Breeza to Gunnedah)
  • five bores in the Lower Lachlan
  • three bores in the Lower Macquarie Zone 2
  • three bores in the Lower Murrumbidgee Deep.

Can you confirm how many groundwater licences are in play across NSW with a breakdown for how many apply to animal agriculture.

A. Based on average groundwater extraction calculated as mean between 2015–15 and 2019–20. Department of Planning and Environment 2021, Understanding NSW’s economic dependency on groundwater, Internal project report. agriculture uses over 65% of all Groundwater extracted in NSW.

How does the current water demands be managed in the presence of climate change?

A. A number of NSW Water Sharing Plans now contain a clause that includes the ability to adjust the plan rules regarding the volume of groundwater available for extraction. As further WSP's are reviewed and updated, the climate change provision will be included.

Does this team undertake groundwater aerial surveying for the department?

A. Groundwater surveying can be done for data acquisition or exploration, we refer to it as Airborne Electromagnetic (AEM), the department does not routinely do such surveys. Other aerial survey done by the department are remote sensing survey of land compaction (or subsidence) for the major inland alluvial aquifer. Those surveys have been done for the Murray, Murrumbidgee, Lachlan, Namoi and Gwydir alluvial aquifer systems.

Are there no loggers shown in the Tweed catchment?

A. There are no active groundwater monitoring bores currently operating in the Tweed catchment.

More recent drillers Form A drilling logs appear to be slow in being updated into the groundwater data system. Some are many years behind. What is the department doing to improve this backlog? How long does the department expect it will take to get these logs updated and available to the public?

A. The function of inputting Form A bore log data is administered by WaterNSW and is now automated.

Who is the agency responsible for reading collation on monitored bores? Is there an enterprise ability for indigenous native title holders and applicants?

A. The function of monitoring bore data on behalf of the NSW Government is administered by WaterNSW.

What is the current status of additional licenses being issued for the Sydney Basin North Coast Groundwater Source? (North Coast Fractured and Porous Rock Groundwater Sources 2016 water sharing plan –if there is an embargo on new licences issued and no remaining allocation available however an amount in the water sharing plan is being held and not allocated)

A. The Sydney Basin-North Coast Groundwater Source (SBNC) is currently more than 80% committed. The department takes a precautionary approach in each controlled allocation by releasing a small amount of unassigned groundwater to prevent over-allocation of groundwater resources.

Under this approach, the level of commitment (and therefore any inclusion in a controlled allocation process) is reviewed as it approaches 80% of the relevant Water Sharing Plan Long Term Average Annual Extraction Limit, consistent with the Strategy for the controlled allocation of groundwater available online. This Strategy aims to ensure enough groundwater remains available to meet future priority water needs such as urban water supply and growth in basic landholder rights. The water trading market is the process to acquire additional shares for those water sources like the SBNC that are more than 80% committed.

What is the regulatory process off impacts indigenous culture and heritage site impact within the state significant approval process?

A. The NSW Aquifer Interference Policy sets out minimal impact considerations inclusive of potential to drawdown at a high priority culturally significant site.

Is every groundwater bore metered? Which bores are not metered and is there a rate of take and or volumetric limit.

A. Not all bores are metered, in particular coastal groundwater water sources of NSW . A metering policy has been established that is progressively being applied to all water sources in the state.

Can this be subcontracted to Indigenous Company for water meter reading of their infrastructure?

A. The functions of meter reading data collection services on behalf of the NSW Government is administered by WaterNSW.

What are your current sources of research capacity? The NWC was wound up a fair while ago.

A. The department continues to work collaboratively with universities and research agencies including CSIRO and ANSTO. The department's Groundwater Management and Science Unit are currently project managing collaborative project funded under the National Water Grid and has applied for funding to progress further research studies under the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) submission process.

What effect has the closure of University Earth Science Departments had on the availability of hydrogeologists?

A. The department is aware that there is a national skills base shortage in training hydrogeologist. The issue is discussed at suitable forums such the International Association of Hydrogeologist to which our agency has active involvement and interstate forums.

How is action 2.2 of the Groundwater Strategy implemented?

A. Groundwater models developed by the department are developed over large areas and are not designed for smaller scale operations such as town water bore field predictions.

How is the department taking this decline in account in potential recharge into NSW groundwater systems and hence groundwater availability? (My recent research done in collaboration with Ric Cook (former NSW Senior Hydrologist) in the NSW Central Tablelands using the BOMs Hydrological Reference Sites shows that over the past 30 years the annual average river flow has decreased between 50% - 65% compared to the period 1962 – 1990. The CSIRO forecasts a further 30% decline in annual streamflow over the next 30 years across the Murray Darling Basin)

A. The department has worked with CSIRO to provide the CSIRO forecast referred to in this question. This is used as an input into defining a work program to inform changes on groundwater due to climate change. As per the NSW Groundwater Strategy Implementation Plan, that work program is on track to be scoped by end 2025.

Does this 'Strategy' proceed the rules/guidelines of these? (There seems to be a lot of duplication with the water resource plans and water sharing plans.)

A. The water sharing plans are the instruments in place in NSW to manage groundwater resources. The objectives set under the MDBA Basin Plan are similar to the objectives of the NSW Water Management Act. The Water Resource Plans and associated reporting are the NSW government tools to be compliant with the Basin Plan. At times, water sharing plans within the Basin Plan area were amended to meet the requirements of the Basin Plan. To meet Basin Plan requirements NSW has included specific parts or sections of water sharing plans in accredited text in water resource plans.

Was there great recharge of groundwater sources over the last 3 years. Are current levels comparable to historical levels?

A. A response to the wetter period is visible in unconfined aquifers, not so much in deeper aquifers which are more influenced by the reduced pumping during that period. For shallow coastal alluvial aquifer systems water levels have recovered with the vast majority of the bore monitoring network reporting water levels fluctuating within typical historical ranges.

Who controls instances where too much irrigation water is raising salty groundwater levels?

A. Excess irrigation can increase the salinity of the upper shallow aquifer via salt mobilisation and evaporation. It can also result in saline groundwater discharge to a river.

The impacts of irrigation on river salinity have been acknowledged for some time, and an accounting process for those impacts forms the basis of the Basin Salinity Management 2030 strategy.

The management of salinity in the Murray River has salinity impacts estimated and then accounted for on the Basin’s A and B Salinity Registers that are central to the 2030 Basin Salinity Management Strategy 2030. Register entries are required to be reviewed at 5-yearly intervals or less frequently as more data becomes available, and as the understanding of salt mobilisation processes and quantification procedures improves.

Site recordable is but one identified engagement that needs to be established and communicated to the indigenous AND Nun Indigenous Heritage location. I believe this could be undertaken in partnerships with indigenous and non-indigenous stakeholders, thereby bringing full community approach too Water and better understanding by all parties

A. The department values include better engagement and partnerships with indigenous communities and employs staff to assist non-indigenous staff in an improved understanding of cultural values, engagement and in implementing these values.

Given water doesn't recognise Local Government boundaries, I'm struggling to understand how the groundwater /surface water modelling all come together when considering water for critical human need for towns - not sure that the Regional Water Strategies are adequately addressing the interplay of these.

A. Acknowledged. Management of water sources is as per Water Sharing Plan and listed water sources. Some Plans include water sources where both groundwater and surface users are inclusive for the purpose of the management rules that apply.

Are natural spring outlets, monitored if a trade usage license is in place?

A. All licence take are required to meter usage and lodge usage data with WaterNSW.