Development, Management and Rehabilitation of Water Bores in the Great Artesian Basin, 1878 – 2020

Brake, L. (2020)


First Nations people have depended on water from the Great Artesian Basin (GAB) springs for tens of thousands of years. The scientific exploration and development of the GAB by European settlers commenced following the construction of the first artesian bore in 1878. The use of its waters was pivotal to pastoral use of vast areas of arid and semi-arid landscapes in Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia. By 1915, more than 1500 bores had been drilled into the GAB; many were artesian free-flowing bores, with distribution losses that exceeded 90% of the water reaching the ground surface. Over time, significant pressure declines were observed with reduction in bore flow rates, and in some cases artesian bores ceased to flow. Governments and water users debated for the next half-century about how to control flowing artesian bores and to reduce the waste of precious water from the GAB. During the second half of the 20th century, significant progress was made to arrest pressure decline across the GAB. However, substantial changes occurred only as a result of basin-wide initiatives supported by state and federal governments and water users at the beginning of the 21st century. These initiatives led to the development of a GAB Strategic Management Plan and the Great Artesian Basin Sustainability Initiative (GABSI) joint funding initiative. Although investments by governments and water users were key drivers of more efficient water delivery infrastructure, sustained cooperative actions and landholder behavioural change proved invaluable in instigating and realising the change. Yet the transition to closed water delivery systems is not complete. There are now more than 50,000 bores in the GAB, of which 6600 are artesian bores, and at least 430 of these bores remain uncontrolled. Bores will continue to fail, and delivery infrastructure will require continuous maintenance. Valuable lessons from the past 120 years of GAB management can guide future management and investment decisions concerning the extraction of water from this valuable resource.