Depleted groundwater reserves can affect the environment - for example, by reducing river flows that depend on shallow groundwater, or by drying out ecosystems such as wetlands that depend on groundwater inputs to maintain water levels. These are known as groundwater–dependent ecosystems.

Groundwater quality is protected through the environmental conditions set by government regulators when authorising development projects, often requiring that groundwater quality be monitored and reported regularly. Modern bore construction standards ensure groundwater only flows from bores in a controlled manner to minimise water use. However, early groundwater bores often allowed uncontrolled flow, which resulted in lower water pressure and volume,  impacting the sustainability of the GAB. However there are signs that groundwater levels are recovering in some areas.

Modern bore construction standards ensure that groundwater only flows from bores in a controlled manner to minimise water use. However, early groundwater bores often allowed uncontrolled flow, resulting in lower water pressure and volume, impacting the sustainability of the GAB. Between 1999 and 2018 the Great Artesian Basin Sustainability Initiative, a partnership of the Australian, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australian and Northern Territory governments, managed the capping of bores and piping of drains to substantially reduce the uncontrolled flow of groundwater from existing infrastructure. This program is estimated to have saved more than 250GL of groundwater per year. This important work is continuing across the GAB through the latest joint funding programs: Improving Great Artesian Basin Drought Resilience and Great Artesian Basin Industry Partnership Programs. For example, the Queensland Government is incorporating these programs into its Great Artesian Basin Rehabilitation Program, with the aim of making the Queensland section of the GAB, watertight by 2027.

It’s vital this resource is sustainably managed so it remains for generations to come, including measuring and regulating extractions of groundwater.  Each state government within the GAB undertakes detailed water planning processes to allocate water entitlements to users and set conditions for use of groundwater. For example, the Queensland Government currently manages the sustainability of the GAB through the Great Artesian Basin and other regional aquifers (GABORA) water plan, which is based on detailed scientific assessments of the resource, use requirements and environmental needs and cultural heritage values.  

The GAB spring systems are also protected under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. In addition to managing the water quality and quantity issues above, the sustainability of the springs is enhanced by good land management practices, including control of feral animals (particularly wild pigs), excluding grazing stock from surrounding areas, and managing weed species; and conservation measures to maintain and increase populations of endemic species.


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