Groundwater is water in saturated soil and rocks. Water–bearing zones are sections of aquifers that can supply sufficient quantities of water for stock, irrigation, domestic use, towns, mining and other commercial purposes.

Groundwater research

The NSW Office of Water is undertaking a range of collaborative research projects with funding from the National Water Commission. Research projects include studies on the links between streams and groundwater systems, groundwater contamination and vulnerability mapping, as well as groundwater models to manage aquifers in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Investigating links between streams and groundwater systems

The Office of Water is investigating how water moves between rivers and underlying aquifers. The project aims to improve current water balance estimates and develop more accurate water models for water managers. Find out how our scientists went about Investigating the links between streams and groundwater systems (PDF 696 KB).

How much water is exchanged between streams and groundwater systems?

A key challenge for the management of alluvial aquifers in the Murray-Darling Basin is to properly quantify the volume of water exchanged between rivers and groundwater systems. Researchers are measuring infiltration to groundwater for six 'losing' river reaches in the NSW Murray-Darling Basin in areas where groundwater pumping of nearby alluvial aquifers occurs.

Read about the results in Interconnection of surface and groundwater systems – river losses from losing-disconnected streams (PDF 2.4 MB).

Groundwater dependent ecosystems

Groundwater dependent ecosystems (GDEs) are a diverse and important component of biological diversity. The term GDE takes into account ecosystems that use groundwater as part of their survival strategies. GDEs can potentially include wetlands, vegetation, mound springs, river base flows, cave ecosystems, playa lakes and saline discharges, springs, mangroves, river pools, billabongs and hanging swamps and near-shore marine ecosystems.

Groundwater dependence

The groundwater dependence of ecosystems can range from complete to partial reliance on groundwater, such as might occur during droughts. The degree and nature of groundwater dependence will influence the extent to which they are affected by changes to the groundwater system, both in quality and quantity.

Ecological processes in groundwater dependent ecosystems are threatened by the regular extraction of groundwater and changes in land use or management. Species and communities that require permanently wet conditions, particularly in arid, semi-arid or seasonally dry conditions are more likely to be groundwater dependent than those tolerant of a regular cycle of wetting and drying.

Risk assessment guidelines for groundwater dependent ecosystems

Many land and water use activities within a catchment can affect groundwater dependent ecosystem function and viability. It is important to manage these land and water use activities within a regulatory and licensing framework. Risk assessment guidelines for groundwater dependent ecosystems have been developed to operate within the regulatory and licensing framework provided by the Water Management Act 2000 and water sharing plans. The guidelines are based on an assessment of various ecological and risk factors that are important to decisions on allowing a proposed activity or development.

View or download Risk assessment guidelines for groundwater dependent ecosystems.

Groundwater contamination

Reports on groundwater contamination and groundwater vulnerability mapping can be found at Groundwater contamination.