Connected Waters Initiative (CWI)

UNSW Groundwater Research 

Australia is often said to be the driest inhabited continent on Earth, but that's only because of its low rainfall.

In fact, we have massive reserves of the most precious of natural resources right beneath our feet in our groundwater.

Bore water, for example, from the Great Artesian Basin made it possible to open up vast inland areas for grazing livestock. Natural springs provide the millions of bottles of mineral water we consume every year.

Groundwater makes it possible to grow many of our crops and pastures. And we're looking increasingly to aquifers to provide drinking water for our growing towns and cities.

Groundwater is found in the voids between sediment grains in the subsurface. It can flow slowly like a river through aquifers or pool in great underground "lakes". Although hidden from view it is intimately connected with the rivers, streams, creeks, ponds, lakes and wetlands we can see above ground.

So, effective water management must consider surface water and groundwater as "connected" - a single resource.

Australia has doubled its groundwater use in recent decades. It now makes up more than one-fifth of all the water we harvest. Yet we don't know enough about the many and complex interactions between groundwater and surface water or how this knowledge can be applied to controversial issues such as coal seam gas development and water allocations in the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

In many cases, we're still treating them as if they were separate resources and we know far too little about how to manage them sustainably.

The University of New South Wales Connected Waters Initiative aims to help fill this critical gap in our knowledge through research, teaching and public education. You can read our vision and mission statements here, and our annual report here.

The CWI is jointly supported by the Faculty of Science and the Faculty of Engineering in recognition of the vital roles that both knowledge and technology can play in better understanding and managing Australia's water resources. Our multidiscipinary expertise includes staff from the Schools of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences; Mining Engineering; and Law.

The CWI manages Australia's groundwater infrastructure program, the NCRIS Groundwater Infastructure, and CWI staff play leading roles in Australia's groundwater centre, the Australian Research Council and National Water Commission funded  National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training (NCGRT).

This site is a window into the UNSW Connected Waters Initiative Research Centre and was initially developed thanks to the generosity of our sponsor, Mr Gary Johnston, CEO of Jaycar Electronics.

Latest news

Ancient water to drain from farmland without ongoing joint management

Ancient water to drain from farmland without ongoing joint management

1 July 2020

The management of withdrawals of ground water in the Central West remains an area of hotly-contested debate. Associate Professor of Hydrogeology Bryce Kelly has spent over a decade studying groundwater in the Central West, and has credited groundwater with “saving rural communities from collapse”, but its potential for future drought-proofing depends on how successfully it’s managed. He says current withdrawals “will only be sustainable if the Narromine region gets flooded frequently enough to balance the volume of groundwater extracted."

Read more…

GWI Global Water Matters Podcast

21 June 2020

The UNSW-GWI Global Water Matters Podcast was launched in 2020 to share interesting and important water-related developments and insights from global experts across the broad spectrum of water-related disciplines. Born from the demand to continue the Water Issues Commentary seminar series under the constraints of social distancing, new episodes are released monthly.

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The mystery of Thirlmere Lakes

The mystery of Thirlmere Lakes

22 May 2020

During the past decade, water levels in the Thirlmere Lakes have varied from full in 2016 to completely dry between October 2018 and February 2020. These variations have raised concerns with the local community and left them wondering; "Where has all the water gone in Thirlmere Lakes?"

Thirlmere Lakes National Park, located south-west of Sydney in an ancient river meander, contains five lakes – Lake Gandangarra, Lake Werri Berri, Lake Couridjah, Lake Baraba, and Lake Nerrigorang. 

Two WRL research teams (EcoEng and Connected Waters) have investigated the water balance budget and surface-groundwater interaction in Thirlmere Lakes. These investigations were supported by coordinated research projects with ANSTOUniversity of Wollongong, and the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and the Environment (DPIE). In collaboration with these groups, WRL engineers undertook extensive fieldwork between 2017 and 2020 to monitor the site, including remote sensing bathymetry surveys, deploying micro-meteorological stations for measuring evapotranspiration, and installing a piezometer network for groundwater investigations.

Read more about the research findings here.  


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Subsidies drive Murray-Darling Basin extractions as environment loses

Subsidies drive Murray-Darling Basin extractions as environment loses

21 May 2020

Subsidised irrigators extracted up to 28 per cent more water than those who received no funds under a national Murray-Darling Basin irrigation efficiency program, a new study has found.

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Groundwater resources in Africa resilient to climate change

Groundwater resources in Africa resilient to climate change

8 August 2019

Groundwater – a vital source of water for drinking and irrigation across sub-Saharan Africa – is resilient to climate variability and change, according to a new study.

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