Science

UNSW wins major role in new groundwater centre

The UNSW farm on the Macquarie River. (photo: Ian Acworth)
Thursday, 22 January, 2009
Bob Beale

UNSW will take a senior role in the new $60 million National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training (NCGRT), announced today by the Federal Government.

The centre is jointly funded by $15 million each from the Australian Research Council and the National Water Commission, with another $30 million contributed from the 20 organisations involved. The consortium is led by Flinders University.

Details are yet to be finalised, but it is expected that UNSW will receive about $8 million over five years through its Connected Waters Initiative - jointly supported by the faculties of Science and Engineering  - for new capital equipment, new research projects, additional staff and new scholarships for fourth-year and PhD students.

The successful UNSW bid included proposals to establish a new centrifuge testing facility, to conduct research into three-dimensional modelling of underground structures, and research projects to examine the flow of water through aquifers (water-bearing permeable rock and other materials) and aquitards (impermeable underground zones that restrict the flow of groundwater from one aquifer to another).

The bid also included a commitment from the NSW government for a further $815,000 to augment the new NCGRT funding by establishing a research and training facility for groundwater issues on a rural property already owned by the university at Wellington, in central-western NSW.

The funds will be part used to establish a 50-hectare area of trees on the farm to measure the change in water run-off from the plots. The university will also establish a climate station and rainfall gauges and will conduct detailed studies of water transpiration.

As well, it is intended to train undergraduate and postgraduate students at the site, which is bounded by the Macquarie River.

 "The river forms one border of the farm and the floodplain makes an excellent teaching and research location for investigating connected waters issues," notes Professor Ian Acworth, Director of the UNSW Connected Waters Initiative and holds the Gary Johnston Chair of Water Management.

That project will complement work by the UNSW FATE program (Future of Australia's Threatened Ecosystems) in recent years to bring together partners - including Wellington Council, local schools, TAFE, corrective services and indigenous stakeholders - with a vision for a sustainably managed community farm, featuring strategic grazing, the development of a native grass-seed nursery, landscape rehabilitation using harvestable tree and shrub species and monitoring combined with education and training opportunities.

Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Penny Wong, and Minister for Innovation and Research, Senator Kim Carr, said the new centre was an important investment in helping secure Australia's future water supplies.

"In Australia's water management, groundwater has often been overlooked," Senator Wong said. "The new National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training will undertake important work to help us manage our groundwater in a more sustainable way. It will also help state and territory governments deliver on reforms under the National Water Initiative to improve groundwater management and knowledge."

Media contacts:
Bob Beale (Science) - 0411 705435;
Peter Trute (Engineering) - 0410 271 826;
Professor Ian Acworth - 02 9949 4488 - i.acworth@unsw.edu.au