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Groundwater

Groundwater Basics

What is groundwater?

Groundwater is water that is found below the ground surface. About 30% of the world’s fresh water is stored as groundwater while less than 1% is stored in streams, rivers, lakes and other surface water bodies. It is stored in and flows through aquifers and, to a lesser degree, aquitards.

What are aquifers and aquitards?

An aquifer is a layer of fractured rock, gravel, sand or limestone below the ground surface with enough space between the particles to hold groundwater and allow it to flow through. An aquitard is a layer of rock or clay below the ground surface that is tightly compacted and so water cannot easily be held within it or flow through it.

What are unconfined, confined and semi-confined aquifers?

Where the aquifer material between the ground surface and the water table is porous it is known as an unconfined aquifer. Where an aquifer is overlain by an aquitard it is known as a confined aquifer. Semi-confined aquifers occur near the edge of the confining layer (or aquitard) or where the aquitard is very thin or more permeable allowing more water to move through it.  Unconfined and confined aquifers react differently to change.

Aquifers and the water cycle

This diagram shows a cross section of aquifers and aquitards and a basic water cycle. Diagram: ©Spatial Vision Innovations Pty Ltd (2015)

 

Groundwater Management

Why is it managed?

Groundwater is a valuable resource because it is generally a very reliable source of water that persists during dry periods when streams can run dry. It is also a much less expensive option than building large dams. Its reliability also makes it important for some ecosystems that depend on it during dry periods.

 

How is groundwater managed?

Groundwater is managed within a licensing framework that records user information, measures and records groundwater levels, meters use and applies rules such as caps on allocation, restrictions in dry seasons and transfers.

How are bores managed?

A licence is required to drill a bore. This is to ensure that construction is undertaken by a licensed driller and complies with Australian drilling standards. Records of bores that include the owner, driller, location, depth of bore, geology and any water quality sample results are stored on a database – the Water Measurement Information System.

How is groundwater use regulated?

With the exception of water used for D&S purposes, all groundwater use is licensed. Licences have fixed annual volumes and compliance is ensured through metering usage and field inspections.

How are aquifers managed?

Aquifers are managed differently according to their identified risks and how they react to use and climate. These risks include things such as the impact of falling groundwater levels on bores or Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems (GDEs) or the potential for saline intrusion. Where there is a high level of identified risk or where there is a high number of users Groundwater Management Units (GMUs) exist to ensure that the aquifer is managed sustainably by defining areas with caps on allocation and rules that relate to transfers and pumping restrictions. Local Management Plans explain how these caps, rules and restrictions apply.

Who is responsible?

Under the Water Act the Minister delegates authority to Southern Rural Water to administer the regulations around licensing that protect groundwater resources.  This includes:

    • Issuing works licences (bore construction)
  • Issuing new ‘take and use’ licences
  • Temporary transfer of a licence (trading)
  • Permanent transfer of a licence (trading)
  • Amendment to a licence
  • Surrender of a licence
  • Amalgamation of licences
  • Approval to dispose of matter underground
  • Setting allocation caps
  • Setting trading rules and other restrictions on the ‘take and use’ of groundwater

The Department of Environment Land Water & Planning (DELWP) oversees resource management and state policy. RWCs report information on licence volumes and use within groundwater catchments and basins to DELWP. There are several other agencies with important roles in groundwater management.

Groundwater Monitoring

How is groundwater monitored?

Groundwater is monitored by a network of observation bores.  These bores are part of the State Observation Bore Network (SOBN). The information collected from the SOBN is added to a database and analysed using hydrographs. Other information such as metered groundwater use, and rainfall can be used to help interpret hydrographs.  Water quality is tested in all new bores and more regularly in some observation bores.

Aquifers in Southern Victoria

Groundwater is found in aquifers.  An aquifer is a layer of fractured rock, gravel, sand or limestone below the ground that is porous enough to hold groundwater and allow it to flow. An aquitard is a layer of rock or clay that may hold some groundwater but is not porous enough to allow it to flow significantly.

Southern Victoria can be broadly subdivided into three aquifer layers; the upper, middle and lower aquifers.  The aquifer layers are generally separated from one another by aquitards.  A cross section showing the relative position of the aquifer layers in the Westerns, central and eastern parts of our area is provided in Figures 1,2 and 3. Further information on these aquifers can be found in Southern Rurals Waters Groundwater Atlas’s which can be found on the Groundwater page of our website.

Figure 1 –Cross-section showing the relative position of the aquifer layers (taken from the South West Victoria Groundwater Atlas). 

Figure 2 –Cross section through the East Port Phillip Bay Groundwater Catchment, taken from the Port Phillip and Westernport Groundwater Atlas

Figure 3 –Cross-section showing the relative position of the aquifer layers (taken from the Gippsland Groundwater Atlas)

For Groundwater Forms click here. For Groundwater Fees click here.

Definitions

Carryover

Allows entitlement holders to retain ownership of unused water allocated or purchased from the current season into the following season, in accordance with rules specified in a Ministerial Order made under section 62A of the Water Act 1989.

Entitlements

Water entitlements referred to in this report refer to entitlements issued under section 51 of the Water Act 1989.

Groundwater basins

One or more groundwater catchments within a geological basin. The basin may extend offshore or across State boundaries.  In some cases, a basin may be broken into one or more sub-basins to reflect administrative management boundaries.

Groundwater Management Area (GMA)

A Groundwater Management Area (GMA) is a discrete area where groundwater of a suitable quality for irrigation, commercial or domestic and stock use is available or expected to be available.

Groundwater Management Plan (GMP)

The object of a management plan is to make sure that the water resources of the relevant water supply protection area are managed in an equitable manner and to ensure long-term sustainability (section 32(A)(1), Water Act 1989).

Groundwater Management Unit (GMU)

Either a groundwater management area or a water supply protection area.

Local Management Plans

Local management plans describe the resource, management objectives and specific rules such as restrictions, carryover (if applicable) and trade. Local management plans cannot amend licence conditions.

Permissible Consumptive Volume (PCV)

The total volume of water that can be taken in an area or water system and a period of time. (section 22(A)(1), Water Act 1989)

Victorian Water Accounts

The Victorian Water Accounts document main water resource management issues and provides an overview of water availability and use across Victoria.

Water Supply Protection Area (WSPA)

A Water Supply Protection Area (WSPA) is an area declared under section 27 of the Water Act 1989 to protect the groundwater or surface water resources through the development of a management plan which aims for equitable management and long-term sustainability.

Links & Resources

SRW Groundwater Atlases

The Groundwater Atlases are stand-alone documents that you can download and print (note if printing: these are A3 landscape size).

This website was developed using content from the Groundwater Atlases.  The atlases may provide more specific detail on some topics

Water Measurement Information System (WMIS)

The Water Measurement Information System from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning is a state-wide depository you can use to search, discover, access and download groundwater monitoring data collected by DELWP and its partners.

Visualising Victoria’s Groundwater

This site is recommended for academics or technical water professionals.

Visualising Victoria’s Groundwater provides a mapping tool that allows you to view and download a wide range of groundwater, bore and geological information.  Some of the information can be seen in 3D.

New users will find the user guide and FAQ section helpful.

Groundwater Resource Reports

This site is useful for individuals looking to use groundwater.

The Groundwater Resource Report is a mapping tool developed by the State Government. It provides a report at a selected location that shows the aquifers present, the likely depth to water and salinity as well as information about relevant management boundaries and caps.

The Australian Groundwater Explorer

Through the Australian Groundwater Explorer you can view groundwater data and information from around the country and you can download datasets.

National Atlas of Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems

This site is recommended for academics or technical water professionals.

The National Atlas of Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems maps the current understanding of where groundwater may interact with our surface water environments.

Environment Protection Authority

The ‘Land and groundwater’ section on the Environment Protection Authority website has some useful information relating to land and groundwater legislation, contaminated site management, groundwater pollution and planning advice.

Other agencies

DELWP provides a useful too where you can find the local water business in your area.  It also let you know the local Catchment Management Authority.

Frequently asked questions?

Can I drink groundwater?

IMPORTANT: We recommend that you DO NOT drink groundwater unless it is treated.

The quality of groundwater can vary widely from place to place and should not be considered safe for human consumption without proper treatment.

 

What are my responsibilities as a groundwater user?

You must ensure that your water is fit for purpose. You should also make sure your bore is maintained in proper working order to protect against bore failure.  If you have a ‘take and use’ licence you must adhere to the conditions of your licence.

 

There is no water in my bore. What causes this?

There are a number of things that can cause changes in your bore yield:

  • This is often caused by a ‘failed’ bore. Bores do not last forever – on average they have a lifespan of around 30 years. They also need to be properly maintained so that they perform as they should. It is your responsibility as the bore owner to maintain your bore in proper working order.
  • Shallow upper aquifers can ‘fill and spill’ seasonally. This is because they can be very thin and do not store large volumes of water. Towards the end of summer groundwater levels in your area may drop resulting in poorer yields. These aquifers usually fill again after winter and spring rains and you will find that your bore yield returns.
  • In some cases your bore may be being impacted by pumping interference from a neighbouring bore. If this is occurring and your bore is in good working condition please contact us.

Renewing your water licence
Your licence is due to be renewed. Without renewal, you won’t be able to take and use water.

Water Act 1989 sections 58 and 72 allow for a licence holder to apply to renew their licence before it expires. Around March of each year, we will send you information on what you need to do to renew your licence. Below is a list of some frequently asked questions:

Why do I have to renew my licence?

Your licence to take and use water and to operate works is valid for a fixed term (usually for several years, ending on 30 June in the year of expiry). If you wish to keep the licence, the Water Act 1989 states that you must apply to renew it before it expires.

Why haven’t I had to renew my licence before when I have had it for so long?

All licences are reviewed toward the end of their term. It could be that your licence was issued 15 years ago and this is the first time it has been due for renewal.

How do I renew my licence?
You need to:

  • review the information SRW provides you
  • advise us of any changes, and
  • pay the application fee (if required)

When does my licence expire?

Your licence expires on 30 June – the actual year it expires will be outlined on your licence. If you want to continue to take and use water and to operate your works, you must submit an application to renew before the expiry date of your licence. If you do not lodge your application with us before the expiry date, you will no longer have authorisation to take and use water.

How long will my licence be renewed for?

Our aim is to renew your licence for 15 years, however, we may consider a lesser time in situations where the impacts of taking water are uncertain.

What if I no longer need my licence?

If you don’t need or want your licence any more, talk to us about your options:

  • you may be able to trade your licence on a temporary or permanent basis
  • you can surrender your licence. Any outstanding fees must be settled before a licence can be

What if the licence is not in my name or the licence owners have changed?

Water licences are ‘owned’ by the people named on the licence. If the name on a licence has changed, you will be asked to complete a ‘transfer of ownership’ application form. All those people listed on the licence must agree and sign the “transfer of ownership” application form.

What if the named licence holders have died?

In this instance, a licence can usually be updated if one of the surviving licence holders provides us with a death certificate, will or probate information. If all named licence holders are deceased, the executors of the estate will need to submit a ‘transfer of ownership’ application to us. We would also require a copy of the will to verify that the new licensees are the people named in the will.

What if I have sold the land but not the licence – can I still renew for 15 years?

No. If the land noted on a licence has been sold to another person (and not replaced) you cannot renew for 15 years. However, to allow you enough time to transfer the licence, the licence may be renewed for a maximum period of 12 months. We recommend you contact us if you are in this situation.

What can you use domestic and stock water for?
Using bore or river water.

The Water Act 1989 says that anyone in the state can take domestic and stock water from a river or bore that they can access.

What is “domestic and stock” use?

You can use domestic and stock water for:

  • The house
  • A kitchen garden
  • Watering pets or stock
  • Fire prevention (only if taken from a spring or soak)

You cannot use domestic and stock water for dairies, piggeries, feedlots, poultry or any other intensive or commercial use.

River or bore water is not treated and is not always suitable for humans.

River or creek water
You can take river or creek water for domestic and stock use if:

  • Your property title includes the river
  • Your property title directly abuts the river
  • You lease Crown Land abutting the river

Bore water
You can take bore water for domestic and stock use if the bore is located on your property.

If you don’t have a bore, you can have one built. You will need to obtain a Bore Construction Licence from Southern Rural Water before work starts on the bore. Check our website for current licence fees.

Extracts from the Water Act 1989
Private Rights (Section 8)

Continuation of private rights to water
1. A person has the right to take water, free of charge, for that person’s domestic and stock use from a waterway or bore to which that person has access –

(a) by a public road or public reserve; or

(b) because that person occupies the land on which the water flows or occurs; or

(c) in the case of a waterway, because that person occupies land adjacent to it and the bed and banks of the waterway have  remained the property of the Crown by virtue of section 385 of the Land Act 1958or any corresponding previous enactment; or

(d) subject to section 33C, in the case of a bore, because that person occupies it. While legislation sets strict guide- lines on where bores can be positioned, we recommend that you talk to your neighbours

Domestic and stock definition (Section 3)
Domestic and stock use, in relation to water, means use for –

(a) household purposes; or

(b) watering of animals kept as pets; or

(c) watering of cattle or other stock; or

(ca)  in the case of the curtilage of a house and any outbuilding, watering an area not exceeding 1·2 hectares for fire prevention purposes with water obtained from a spring or soak or water from a dam; or

(d) irrigation of a kitchen garden- but does not include use for dairies, piggeries, feed lots, poultry or any other inten- sive or commercial use; domestic partner of a person means –

Kitchen garden means a garden –

(a) that is used solely in connection with a dwelling; and

(b) no produce from which is sold; and

(C) in the case of a garden irrigated solely with surface water that is not part of an allotment that was alienated from the Crown before
15 December 1886, that is not bigger than 0.1 hectares; and

(d) in the case of a garden irrigated with both surface water and groundwater that is not part of an allotment that was alienated from the Crown before 15 December 1886, that is not bigger than 0.4 hectares; and

(e) in the case of a garden irrigated solely with groundwater, that is not bigger than 0.4 hectares; and

(f) in the case of a garden that is part of an allotment that was alienated from the Crown before 15 December 1886, that is not bigger than 1.2 hectares.

Constructing a bore?
What happens when you apply to take and use water?

When we receive your application, we immediately:

  • scan it and add it to our record keeping system
  • send you a receipt for any fees you have paid, and

We then assign it to one of our Assessment Officers, who will see your application through to the end.

They will check your application to make sure that you have given us all we need to assess your proposal.

If something simple is missing, they will call you. If something more important is missing, they will write to you. We cannot work on your application until we have all of the details we need.

Assessing your application. The process explained

When we assess an application, we must think about:

  • current water users, waterways and how close they are to you
  • section 40 of the Water Act 1989
  • government policies
  • local management rules or plans
  • irrigation development guidelines if they apply

The process explained Technical work

If necessary, we may ask you to provide technical information about your proposal. This often happens when we think your proposal may affect other users or the environment.

Asking for comment

If your proposal may affect other users or the environment, or is for a significant volume of water, we need to give people a chance to comment. We require you to:

  • advertise your proposal in a local newspaper
  • let your neighbours know about your application by formal letter

We will provide you with templates for the required advertising and neighbour letters.

We will also refer your application to agencies such as the catchment management authority, local council, urban water authority, Aboriginal Affairs Victoria and Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.

The public and agencies have 28 days to provide comments.

If we receive several adverse comments, we may invite all interested parties to a meeting. This gives people a chance to:

  • discuss the proposal in more detail
  • talk about any concerns

If you have given us expert technical information, you should also bring along the consultant who provided this information.

Making a decision

When we have looked at all information and comments, we will either:

  • approve your application, and outline the conditions that will apply
  • refuse the application, and tell you the reasons why

We will also advise all interested parties of the decision, and provide a “Statement of Reasons” which explains our decision.

How long will it take?

If you apply for new water, or for a large permanent transfer, we aim to decide within 60 days (from the time we receive all required details). If you apply for a temporary transfer, we aim to decide within 14 days.

You can appeal

No matter what we decide, anyone can lodge an appeal to VCAT within 28 days of the decision being made. Because of this, we delay sending you the final documents until the appeal period has passed.

New Ground Water allocations
If you are thinking about using groundwater…

To assist with the protection of Victorian groundwater resources, Groundwater Management Areas and Water Supply Protection Areas have been established. In some of these areas we can no longer approve new allocations of water, as a Permissible Annual Volume (PAV) has been set. New water allocations cannot be granted when the total allocation for the area has reached its PAV. As an alternative, you can apply to transfer licensed volume from an existing licence holder within the same Groundwater Management or Water Supply Protection Area. For information on groundwater trading read our Groundwater Trading Fact Sheet. A copy is available from our website www.srw.com.au.

New Groundwater Allocations – what’s involved?

You can apply to Southern Rural Water for a new allocation of water in areas that are either not at their PAV or have not been declared as a GMA or WSPA.

Our assessment process will vary according to where you are, the volume you require and the intended use of the water. Before we can determine whether to approve or decline your application, you may need to:

  • provide a professionally prepared hydrogeological report that includes an assessment of the impacts that your proposal may have on the other users or potential users, waterways, the aquifer and the environment.
  • provide a water use plan. You need to explain how you will use the water and how long it will take you to develop your water use. This information will be used to form part of the licence conditions if the application is approved.
  • complete a public notification process that includes advertising, neighbour notification and referral to other local agencies and government departments. Southern Rural Water provides you with templates for advertising and neighbour notification and will meet with local agencies and government departments on your behalf. People will have 28 days to respond to the public notification process. We may also need to hold a meeting of those who responded and the applicant.

Once your application has been lodged with us, you will receive written advice as to what parts of the assessment process apply to your application. This process will take up to twelve weeks, possibly longer.

Your application will not necessarily be approved. If the information gathered as part of the assessment process indicates that your proposal is not sustainable or will have a negative impact on other users, the aquifer or the environment we will not be able to approve your application.

Reminders for drillers. Before you drill, check you have:

  1. received a copy of the Bore Construction Licence (BCL)
  2. read and understood all the conditions on the BCL
  3. clarified any details with Southern Rural Water (SRW).

Call us first on 1300 139 510 (toll free) If you need to:

  • drill deeper than the BCL allows
  • drill extra bores
  • change the proposed bore site.

If you are constructing a new bore or altering an existing bore

You must ensure that a BCL is obtained before any work begins. This applies to any bore where groundwater is to be intercepted – even if the bore is for investigation and/or observation purposes. Failure to obtain a licence to construct a bore is an offence under the Water Act 1989 and SRW will not hesitate to take legal action against drillers and their clients where the law is breached.

You must:

  • ensure the bore is drilled according to the BCL conditions and completed before the BCL expiry date.
  • provide a copy of the Bore Completion Report to SRW and to the Licensee within 28 working days of the works being completed.

If, during construction, you need to drill deeper than the BCL allows

You must stop drilling at/before the maximum depth is reached. Call SRW immediately (1300 139 510 toll free), explain the situation and give an idea of the additional depth required. SRW staff will assess the revised depth, notify you of any additional requirements and provide, where appropriate, approval to proceed in the shortest possible timeframe.

If you need to drill more bores that are authorised on the BCL

SRW must authorise any additional bores on a site before the work starts. This applies to all bores – investigation, monitoring, domestic & stock, irrigation etc.

Don’t plumb water to your mains supply. It is illegal to modify plumbing on your land without proper approval.

The number of homes accessing bore water has greatly increased over recent years.

It is illegal to plumb bore water with your mains supply without the proper approval from your town water supplier.

For this reason:

  • Contact your urban water authority for information about modifying your mains supply to incorporate bore water or any other source of water
  • You may be asked to install backflow devices at the mains water meter and internal plumbing
  • Installation, if approved, must follow instructions provided by your urban water authority
  • All installations of backflow devices must be carried out by a licensed plumber
  • In areas where there is an increased risk of mains water contamination, annual testing by Plumbing Industry Commission licensed plumbers may be required

Working with these requirements will assist water suppliers to continue to provide you with a reliable source of water.

To discuss these requirements or to find out more, please contact your local urban water authority.

Barwon Water South Gippsland Water
61-67 Ryrie St GEELONG, 3220
1300 656 007
14 – 18 Pioneer St FOSTER, 3960
1300 851 636
Central Highlands Water Wannon Region Water Authority
7 Learmonth Rd WENDOUREE, 3353
(03) 5320 3100
25 Gateway Rd WARRNAMBOOL, 3280
1300 926 666
East Gippsland Water Western Water
133 Macleod St BAIRNSDALE, 3875
1300 720 700
36 Macedon St SUNBURY, 3429
1300 650 425
Gippsland Water Westernport Water
Hazelwood Rd TRARALGON, 3844
1800 066 401
2 Boys Home Rd NEWHAVEN, 3925
1300 720 711
Melbourne Water City West Water
100 Wellington Pde MELBOURNE, 3001
131 722
247 – 251 St Albans Rd SUNSHINE, 3020
131 691
Yarra Valley Water South East Water
Lucknow St MITCHAM, 3132
131 721
20 Corporate Dve HEATHERTON, 3202
131 694

Don’t drink the water
The quality and quantity of groundwater can vary widely.

Groundwater is untreated and should not be considered safe for human consumption without proper treatment.

EPA Victoria has made existing information about groundwater quality easier to find via an interactive web tool on its website. You can easily search a map of Victoria to find where a ‘groundwater quality restricted use zone’ is. These are areas where there has been historic groundwater pollution as a result of previous industrial activity. For more information visit the EPA website www.epa.vic.gov.au/groundwater.

What does it look like down a bore?
Take a look at our youtube channel to see footage taken down a deep bore in south west Victoria. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YCFG3my5LHg&feature=youtu.be

Southern Rural Water acknowledges and recognises Aboriginal people as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the land and waters on which we work and live, and we respect their deep and ongoing connection to Country. For more about the First Nations peoples on whose Country we work, click here.