Sustainable Management of Groundwater Extraction: A Perspective on Current Challenges
Presenter: Professor Peter Cook
When: Tuesday 11th April, 17:30 for a 18:00 start
Where: Level 27, 680 George Street, Sydney
Online: Teams link
Professor Peter Cook is one of Australia’s foremost groundwater scientists, and internationally recognized for his research on groundwater recharge, surface water – groundwater interactions and the application of environmental tracers. He has co-written books on environmental tracers and ecohydrology and has published more than 100 research papers in leading international journals. He was the National Ground Water Association’s Henry Darcy Distinguished Lecturer in Ground Water Science in 2009, the first time this honour was awarded to a scientist from outside North America. Professor Cook frequently advises Australian and overseas government on water management. He has been a member of the Victorian Government Technical Audit Panel for Water Resources (2002 – 2008), the National Groundwater Committee (2002 – 2007), and the Scientific Advisory Committee of the German Water Science Alliance (2010-2012). He was Deputy Director of the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training (NCGRT) between 2009 and 2014 and has been its Director since 2020.
Our incomplete knowledge of groundwater systems and processes imposes barriers in attempting to manage groundwater sustainably. Challenges also arise through complex institutional arrangements and decision-making processes, and the difficulty in communicating management decisions to stakeholders. In some areas, these difficulties have led to water table decline and aquifer depletion, as well as reductions in streamflow and loss of wetlands and other groundwater-dependent ecosystems. However, there is potential to improve the sustainability of groundwater resources through improvements in management practices. We discuss some of the challenges, and present survey results of research, government, and industry professionals across the groundwater sector in Australia. We identify gaps in process understanding, information availability, technical tools and implementation. The highest ranked challenge identified in the survey was the difficulty in determining regional-scale volumetric water extraction limits. This is interesting given the criticism in the international literature of volumetric based approaches for groundwater management, and the decreased reliance on this approach in Australia and elsewhere in recent years. Other major challenges are the difficulty in determining and implementing maximum drawdown criteria for groundwater level management, determining water needs of ecosystems, and managing groundwater impacts on surface water. Notwithstanding these gaps in technical understanding and tools and a lack of resources for groundwater studies, improvements in stakeholder communication and community knowledge of groundwater processes should enable more effective decision making and improve compliance with regulations designed to protect groundwater and dependent ecosystems.