Great Artesian Basin

The Great Artesian Basin is an important water resource. It must be carefully managed jointly by all Basin jurisdictions working closely with the Commonwealth and stakeholders to ensure water security for a large part of Australia.

Strategic Management Plan

The new Great Artesian Basin Strategic Management Plan is now available.

The Plan proposes a principles-based approach to manage the Great Artesian Basin. It guides government, industry and the community.

The new Plan builds on the success of the first strategic management plan and brings in:

  • new technical knowledge
  • better sustainable water resource management practices
  • changing social and political contexts.

We would like to acknowledge the work of the Great Artesian Basin Coordinating Committee (GABCC) which played a pivotal role in providing strategic advice on a range of matters, including the development of the new Plan.

The launch of the new Plan formally concludes the work of the GABCC and the opening of a new chapter for governments, communities and industries to work together to manage the Basin for current and future generations.

Stakeholder Advisory Committee

A Great Artesian Basin Stakeholder Advisory Committee will:

  • advise on whole-of-Basin policies and initiatives
  • present the views of industry, communities and other stakeholders.

The Committee will be established under the Great Artesian Basin Heads of Agreement. This agreement is between the Australian Government and Basin state and territory governments.

About the Great Artesian Basin

See description above.  

Great Artesian Basin—map [PDF – 722 KB]

The Great Artesian Basin is one of the largest underground freshwater resources in the world. It is Australia’s largest groundwater basin.

The Basin spans almost 1.7 million square kilometres (over one-fifth of the Australian continent) and has a storage capacity of 64,900 million ML. It connects with the Murray–Darling Basin and the Lake Eyre Basin and lies beneath parts of the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia and New South Wales. It includes the Eromanga, Surat and Carpentaria geological basins.

The Basin as a resource

Basin water emerges naturally through cracks in the rock, flowing into springs, shallow water tables, creeks and rivers. This creates a permanent water source even during dry periods. Most springs and leakages occur on the edges of the Basin where water is close to the surface.

The Basin generates nearly $13 billion per year and is a vital resource for 180,000 people, 7,600 businesses and 120 towns.

It has enabled Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to occupy dry inland areas of Australia for more than 40,000 years, and for communities to maintain cultural, social and spiritual connections with the springs and their associated ecological communities and landscapes.

Uncontrolled water use

Uncontrolled water flow from bores and open earth bore drains reduces water pressure and volume. This threatens the health of groundwater-dependent ecosystems and limits access to artesian water by pastoralists.

It has also become difficult for new water users in or near the Basin to access groundwater resources.

Basin water wastage also damages the environment through:

  • reduced pressure in some naturally occurring artesian springs
  • encouragement of the spread of pest plants and animals
  • land and water salinisation.

Up to 95% of water can be wasted through evaporation and seepage, even in well-maintained drains.

Sustainability initiatives for the Great Artesian Basin

Since 1999, the Australian Government has contributed approximately $130 million to sustainability initiatives through the Great Artesian Basin Sustainability Initiative (GABSI) program, saving over 250 GL per year.

In 2017 we announced $8 million in funding for water infrastructure improvements in the Great Artesian Basin for two years through an Interim Great Artesian Basin Infrastructure Investment Program 2017-19. 

Through the life of the program, we contributed close to $5 million to Basin jurisdictions. The 20 projects undertaken during the program have resulted in over 3000 ML of water saved per year.

Other direct and indirect benefits to Basin communities include:

  • sustaining cultural heritage values
  • improved utilisation of productive land and farm businesses
  • restoration of native vegetation
  • improved water quality
  • health of stock during drought
  • reduced on-farm infrastructure costs.

Great Artesian Basin programs

On 19 August 2018, the Australian Government announced the commitment of $36.9 million over six years to improve water security and drought resilience in the Great Artesian Basin.

The Improving Great Artesian Basin Drought Resilience (IGABDR) Program

We are committed to improving water security outcomes and drought resilience in the Basin.

We are providing Basin jurisdictions up to $27.6 million of matching Australian Government funding over five years from 1 July 2019 (2019-20 to 2023-24).

This will support activities to improve water security and drought resilience through increasing artesian pressure and reducing wastage of the resource. These activities include bore capping and piping, education and communication programs to manage Basin water, and research to develop new management arrangements.

The Interim Great Artesian Basin Infrastructure Investment Program (2019–20)

Up to $6.4 million of Commonwealth funding was made available for the Interim Great Artesian Basin Infrastructure Investment Program (IGABIIP) in Queensland 2019-20.

IGABIIP funded 16 infrastructure projects (eight piping and eight rehabilitation, redrill and plugging projects) and one compliance activity worth $1.842 million of Commonwealth funds with an estimated 3.05 GL water saving per year.

The Great Artesian Basin Groundwater Project

The Australian Government has allocated $6.5 million to improve understanding of the groundwater system and water balance in the Great Artesian Basin using pilot studies in the northern Surat Basin and western Eromanga Basin.

The project by Geoscience Australia will finish in July 2022 and use supercomputers and satellite technology to investigate:

  • how water enters the Basin from rainfall
  • how the water is used
  • how much water is held in storage.

Learn more.

Further information



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Last reviewed: 21 September 2020
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