EARTH FIRST: Throwing the spotlight on an important water source

PRECIOUS: A bore water tank during drought conditions. In Australia groundwater makes up approximately 17 per cent of accessible water. Photo: GREGORY HEATH
PRECIOUS: A bore water tank during drought conditions. In Australia groundwater makes up approximately 17 per cent of accessible water. Photo: GREGORY HEATH

SUNDAY marks the beginning of National Groundwater Awareness Week [NGAW].

Although it is an American concept, NGAW deserves worldwide recognition because of the importance of groundwater, which is the world's most extracted natural resource.

The purpose of NGAW is to highlight the responsible management and use of groundwater and to raise awareness of the need to regularly monitor our groundwater for quality and sustainable rates of extraction.

Groundwater is the water that seeps into the ground after rain. It accumulates in cracks and pores in rocks (aquifers).

Approximately two percent of the earth's water occurs as groundwater. In Australia groundwater makes up approximately 17 per cent of accessible water and accounts for over 30 per cent of Australia's total water consumption.

Future use of groundwater in Australia is predicted to rise especially as surface water resources may diminish because of climate change and prolonged drought.

We use groundwater in a variety of ways. It is widely used as a main source of drinking water for many cities and towns. It is also used for irrigation, agriculture and industrial use.

Groundwater from natural springs is bottled for commercial purposes and is also used in the bottling of soft drinks and alcoholic beverages such as beer.

Natural ecosystems rely on groundwater. In many parts of  Australia native flora and fauna rely on groundwater for their survival. Groundwater also directly contributes to rivers and lakes, often maintaining surface water bodies in times of drought.

Large-scale mining operations frequently depend on groundwater for their operations, especially in the arid areas of Australia.

The chemical composition of groundwater affects its suitability for different uses. Groundwater is vulnerable to contamination from a range of activities such as industrial and agricultural enterprises and changes in land use.

Poor management of groundwater can cause many significant water quality problems.

Major threats to groundwater quality include salinity, acidity, nutrients, and contaminants such as heavy metals, industrial chemicals and pesticides.

Polluted groundwater may cause environmental damage when it discharges into waterways and wetlands and adversely impacts on groundwater dependent ecosystems. Poor quality groundwater can also pose significant risks to human health.

The Orange district is fortunate in that the fractured basalt of the area contains abundant high quality groundwater. As a result there is a large number of stock and domestic bores to be found in the surrounding district.

Part of Orange's water supply consists of groundwater bores, situated at the Orange Showground, the Council Works Depot and at Clifton Grove.

The water quality of these bores is monitored by council through a Groundwater Monitoring Program, which involves testing for a variety of possible contaminants on a quarterly basis.

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