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Op-Ed: Big win for environment in Australia — Great Artesian Basin reviving huge area

t’s hope the future appreciates what we so very nearly lost.  

Australian town hits record high temperature of 50.7C
Australia has matched its highest temperature on record, a blistering 50.7 degrees Celsius - Copyright AFP PETER PARKS
Australia has matched its highest temperature on record, a blistering 50.7 degrees Celsius - Copyright AFP PETER PARKS

The Great Artesian Basin (GAB)  is one of the world’s largest water catchments. It’s about the size of Queensland. For decades, rehabilitation has been underway, shutting down bore wells that were severely draining the GAB.  

Now, the rewards are showing. The GAB is coming back to life and revealing new aquifers and springs.  Even better, microfauna, including previously unknown species, are flourishing. Huge amounts of water, estimated at 214,000 megalitres have been saved each year.

This is a new lease of life for the outback, with some drought-proofing attached. Settlement and unregulated water usage did a lot of damage. This is the first time that the GAB has been able to function naturally in nearly 70 years.

(To be fair, early settlers didn’t have too many options, and water was scarce in these regions. The problem was basically that modern water usage in the 1960s and more settlement exacerbated the drainage to the level that it had to be fixed.)

Good timing for climate change

This revival of a major ecosystem support comes just as Australia finally signs up to the climate accord. A revived ecosystem of this huge size will do a lot to manage carbon through live soil chemistry and trees,

It’s also fortunate that this rebirth of the GAB coincides with a wildly varying climate. Droughts, many floods, and desertification haven’t exactly made life easy in the outback.

The return of the GAB isn’t yet back to pre-settlement times, but it’s obviously healthy. It can be a very powerful sustaining regional life force. The GAB extends all the way from Queensland to Lake Eyre in South Australia, including some of the toughest country in Australia. Its revival may well manage climate change much better than humans could in terms of sheer size and scale.

We’re also seeing some weird changes in rainfall patterns recently. A few years ago we had one of the biggest and worst droughts in Australian history. Last year, the wet season dumped heavy rain all the way from the Northern Territory to South Australia. This year, massive La Nina rainfall has been causing serious floods on the east coast and inland from Queensland to Victoria.

Managing climate and carbon with the GAB

The GAB is effectively an insurance policy against both of these serious, destructive, and expensive issues. The fact is that the cumulative effect of the new GAB in terms of environmental and water management will be a game-changer for the outback.

The famous Dead Heart of Australia could well receive a reboot. The critical issue is to ensure that it flourishes. Bush regeneration, species habitats, and carbon fixation should spike steadily. It’s not quite like reafforesting the Amazon, but it is the local equivalent. It’s anyone’s guess what may happen to the dry watercourses and parched landscapes, but it will be a long-term improvement, reinstating the natural environment.

Let’s hope the future appreciates what we so very nearly lost.  


The opinions expressed in this Op-Ed are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Digital Journal or its members.

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Written By

Editor-at-Large based in Sydney, Australia.

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