Liverpool Plains Field Day discusses groundwater questions

Posted 4 November 2011

Dr Anna Greve explains new geophysical data

The CWI research team has contributed to a field day held at the Liverpool Plains field station organised by the Department of Primary Industries (DPI).

Community participation and feedback was strong, with many questions highlighting the need for more water investigations and assessments.

UNSW researchers (led by Dr Wendy Timms, Dr Anna Grieve and Dr Adam Hartland) gave an overview of a range of geophysical (seismicity, gravity), geochemical (chloride, isotopic and organic tracers) and hydrogeological techniques. They also completed five days of fieldwork in the Upper Namoi (photos 3 and 4), sampling groundwater from irrigation bores, and monitoring bores for water quality testing.

Issues of water availability and quality are of growing importance in Australia and this is reflected in increased media coverage and community awareness. Potential threats to water resources including extraction for irrigation, disposal of saline and contaminated wastes and depressurisation that may be associated with mining, coal seam gas (CSG) extraction. Independent and international quality science is needed to inform the debate around water management

The Liverpool Plains in northern NSW, is a landscape of black soil plains with high water holding capacity, adjacent to sandstone ridges and basalt hills. The area contributes an estimated $332 million to GDP annually, including food and fibre crops, beef production and coal mining.

To improve our understanding of water movement in this area, researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW), have received funding from the Australian Research Council and National Water Commission.

The research, part of the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training (NCGRT) involves work with the NSW Department of Primary Industries at the Liverpool Plains field station.

A major component of this research is coming to understand how much water recharges the shallow and deep aquifers through infiltration and vertical leakage. The rate of leakage is controlled by hydraulic pressure differences and low permeability sediments called aquitards. Recharge is a small proportion of precipitation after losses through evapotranspiration.

This research is important because the current groundwater model indicates that vertical leakage through the plains account for 70% of groundwater recharge in the area (Zone 3 of the Breeza plain). However, the relative importance of other sources of recharge such as flooding, stream bed leakage, and hillslope run-off and infiltration needs to be better understood to inform groundwater management decisions.

This research cannot answer all questions over water resources with the current focus on vertical leakage.

This research can provide a valuable contribution to knowledge, enhance computer groundwater models and develop new methods to improve water management in both agriculture and mining. For example, new centrifuge permeameter technology is now available to help assess potential changes that can occur over decades and millennia in slowly moving groundwater systems.

This research will run over the next 3 years to mid-2014, at three sites in the Upper Namoi area, including the field station, where new monitoring bores to 40 m depth have been installed. NCGRT research findings will be publically available to complement the Namoi Water Study, environmental assessments and to better inform decision making.

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