The Great Artesian Basin is a natural underground water resource covering thousands of square kilometers in inland Australia. Natural springs fed from this source were long known to indigenous people. Europeans discovered the water when a bore was sunk near Bourke, NSW, in 1878. The image here is from Charlotte Plains Station camping area, near Cunnamulla, Queensland.
The first bore was drilled on Kallara Station near Bourke, producing fresh, flowing water that required no pumping. Drilling was difficult work, taking place in remote locations. In the first 20 years only about 35 bores were drilled but in the next 10 years that number grew to over 400.
The Great Artesian Basin provided water for cattle stations, irrigation, livestock and settlements. For many years, until the 1950s, bores were uncapped. Much of the water that flowed freely soaked into the ground or was lost to evaporation. With so many bores drawing on the system, some dried up and many lost pressure. There were other environmental impacts, with the open earth drains encouraging weed growth, destroying local ecosystems and causing land and water salinisation.
The Great Artesian Basin Sustainability Initiative is a program by State and Federal Governments to address these issues. It commenced in 1999 and helps landholders accelerate work on capping uncontrolled artesian bores and replacing wasteful open earthen bore drains with pipes. Through a complex tap system, farmers can then turn the bores on and off and only use the water when it’s needed.
Now, the water goes straight to the tanks and troughs without being wasted through evaporation, and it doesn’t damage the native landscape by encouraging weeds and feral animals.
However, the future of the Basin, which supplies water for many of Australia’s inland towns, is uncertain. Recent research concluded that “Although not all the values are known for certain, it appears that outflows are greater than inflows for most of the Basin.”