How science is helping to discover the full value of groundwater in remote SA

06 February 2024

Groundwater can often be an undervalued and complex water source that requires investigation before its full value can be truly understood. For remote regions of Australia, groundwater can be a solution to many water access problems. This is why we are adding 2 more science projects that focus on groundwater to our list.

Both projects will support Indigenous communities in South Australia and help keep locals on Country by exploring whether groundwater can be used as a reliable water source.

What is groundwater?

As the name suggests, it’s water that seeps into cracks and crevices underground, often following rainfall or flooding.

In fact, 2% of the Earth’s water occurs as groundwater. When we compare this number to water found in rivers and lakes, 0.1%, it’s clear why groundwater is an important water source. In fact, it makes up around 17% of accessible water and more than 30% of the world’s total water consumption.

APY Lands groundwater quantity and quality investigation project

The Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in north-western South Australia, is an area that has promising groundwater potential. Their current water supply isn’t sustainable in its current form, which has impacts on the local community, including their health, wellbeing and economy.

The Australian Government has invested $1.9 million through the National Water Grid (NWG) Science Program to investigate how groundwater sources can be sustainably developed to support the community. Previous studies have shown this groundwater exists, but we now need to understand how it can be sustainably used.

Understanding more about this groundwater is the first step in what is hopefully a reliable water source for the region. The project involves data and information collection through drilling and a range of sampling and testing activities.

Work will be undertaken in close partnership with the local Indigenous community, drawing on their knowledge of the area and its water.

Self-supplied remote communities groundwater quality assessment project

Several remote communities across South Australia rely on rainfall for their drinking water supply. With drought conditions either already here or forecast soon, these communities are at risk of running out of drinking water.

This project will help 19 remote communities, made up of 9 Aboriginal Homelands and 10 others with a high Indigenous population.

A (water) spring in remote South Australia, with a windmill in the background.

Hookina Spring (Pungka Pudanha) near Yappala. Credit Simone Stewart

Groundwater is often seen as a possible climate change resilient solution. However, at this stage, not enough is known about the groundwater systems near these 19 communities. This is why the Australian Government is investing $250,000 into the NWG Science Program to learn more about their local groundwater potential, and whether they can provide an alternate water supply for these communities.

Working closely with local Indigenous peoples, the research aims to be culturally respective of their connection to the land, environment and water.

What’s next?

The Self-supplied Remote Communities Groundwater Quality Assessment project is expected for completion this year, with the APY Lands Groundwater Quantity and Quality Investigation project expected to be completed in 2026. The findings will be made publicly available on our site, so everyone can access the data gathered to help inform future decisions. The National Water Grid will continue working closely with South Australia if groundwater extraction options are recommended.

Learn more

APY Lands Groundwater Quantity and Quality Investigation project

Self-supplied Remote Communities Groundwater Quality Assessment project