Bioregional assessments are a scientific analysis of the ecology, hydrology and geology of an area for the purpose of assessing the potential risks to water resources in the area as a result of the direct and indirect impacts of coal seam gas development or large coal mining development.
The Australian Government will conduct bioregional assessment activities in key locations announced by Water Minister Tony Burke in March 2012 (Coal seam gas expert scientific committee legislation introduced):
- Queensland/South Australia - Lake Eyre Basin, which is underlain by the Galilee, Cooper and Pedirka coal bearing basins
- New South Wales and Queensland - Northern Inland Catchments, incorporating the Namoi, Border Rivers-Gwydir, Maranoa-Balonne and Macquarie-Castlereagh coal bearing basins. This area is underlain by the Gunnedah and Surat basins
- New South Wales - Northern Sydney Basin and the Gloucester Basin, encompassing the Hunter Central Rivers and Hawkesbury-Nepean natural resource management regions
- New South Wales - Southern Sydney Basin, encompassing the Southern Rivers, Sydney Metro and Hawkesbury-Nepean natural resource management regions, and
- Queensland - Clarence-Moreton Basin, encompassing the South East Queensland and Northern Rivers natural resource management regions.
In addition to those first five bioregions listed above, the Gippsland Lakes region in Victoria has also been identified as a priority area for the bioregional assessment process.
Bioregional assessments will be conducted in conjunction with relevant state and territory government agencies and natural resource management bodies, and will involve an assessment of all available water, and related geological and ecological data.
The expected key deliverables from the bioregional assessment process will include:
- Bioregional and sub-bioregional profiles that will present an overview of each region and sub regions in report format and interactive web systems that provide access to data, reference material and three dimensional 'conceptual' models.
- Surface and groundwater models to provide an integrated 'conceptual' understanding of a particular bioregion and a 'numerical' understanding of how all water related attributes interact to form a water balance.
- Risk assessment reports that will articulate the likely impacts of mine development on community and environmental values and may describe the direct and indirect impacts of a particular mining activity or mining activities on a region's values.
Activities have commenced to gather water asset data and information on the potential risks and threat rating to these assets from coal seam gas and coal mining developments. A number of natural resource management bodies in New South Wales (13), Queensland (10) and South Australia (six) have been provided $400 000 each to undertake this work. Negotiations are underway with the Victorian Government with regard to commissioning relevant data from eight Victorian natural resource management bodies. The Commonwealth is also working in partnership with the South Australian Government to attain baseline hydrogeological information for the Pedirka and Arckaringa Basins and to undertake a Lake Eyre Basin River Monitoring project in South Australia.
Phase 1 of the bioregional assessment program has also seen progress in the development of two key bioregional assessment outcomes: an intellectual methodological framework which will be used to guide the implementation of bioregional assessments; and the development of a prototype for an information platform to display and make available the information from bioregional assessments.
Phase 2 of the bioregional assessment process involves implementation and delivery of bioregional assessments under a commonwealth scientific collaboration between the department, CSIRO, Geoscience Australia and the Bureau of Meteorology.
The results of these assessments will assist in providing advice to governments about the potential hydrological and ecological impacts of specific coal seam gas or coal mining proposals as well as providing valuable information to the community and industry about the water-related resources and risks in an area.