Improving Conservation Outcomes for Great Artesian Basin Springs in South Australia

Lewis, S., and Harris, C. (2020)


It is estimated that there are more than six hundred springs and spring groups in the Great Artesian Basin (GAB), in Queensland, north-west New South Wales and South Australia. In the South Australian GAB, a limited number of important springs are protected within state reserves and through private initiatives and localised, targeted government programs. However, the vast majority of GAB springs in South Australia are unprotected on privately managed pastoral lands used for stock grazing. Communities of native species dependent on the GAB springs (an endangered ecological community under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) (EPBC Act) are subject to uncontrolled and often severe ongoing impacts. Efforts at the national level to sustain GAB springs have focused primarily on reducing wastage from artesian bores to help maintain water pressure in the GAB. While this is very important, the impacts associated with land management practices are equally important and require a similar level of attention to find solutions which can also accommodate pastoral and other water users. This paper summarises the critical issues associated with conservation of GAB springs on pastoral lands in South Australia and proposes actions for future management. The main issue of concern is the impact of stock and pest animals on springs, and practical options for addressing those impacts. Exclusion of these animals is seen to be the key mechanism for protection of important GAB springs, and this usually means fencing. A GAB springs protection program is needed, and the paper explores a range of regulatory or governance options to support such a program. A preferred approach is a collaborative program involving state government agencies, pastoral lessees and others through application of management agreements under the South Australian Native Vegetation Act 1991 or the SA Natural Resources Management Act 2004, supported by financial backing through the NRM Water Levy for the region. An effective compliance program is needed through collaborative arrangements between the state government and regional NRM Board. Recent research projects have developed criteria to be applied in determining priorities for GAB spring protection and remote monitoring techniques, although there are still some key gaps in the springs information base that need to be addressed.