The Director of the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training (NCGRT) headquartered at Flinders University has a lot on his plate.
The Matthew Flinders Distinguished Professor of Hydrogeology and Schultz Chair in the Environment is passionately focused on ensuring the survival and quality of Australia’s important groundwater supplies.
“In Australia, groundwater accounts for around one-third of our total water consumption and in the past few decades, Australia has more than doubled its groundwater use,” he says.
“This will increase in the future as we strive to meet the water needs of a rapidly growing population, our native landscape, expanding industries and agriculture, and increased energy demands, all of which must coexist under the increasing pressure of climate change.”
The NCGRT has a wide range of research projects running across the board, from the Murray-Darling Basin and Great Artesian Basin to international groundwater projects in Sub-Saharan Africa, Vietnam and China. It’s also two years into a significant study of the groundwater of the Pilbara mining region of north-western Western Australia.
Working with resources giant Rio Tinto, Professor Simmons is leading a major Australian Research Council Linkage grant studying “groundwater mixing” in the open pit mining region.
“The research has widespread implications for better scientific understanding of the effects of these mines on the regional flow system, and what that means for groundwater in the future”, Professor Simmons says.
“In a recent field trip, Flinders researchers with collaborators from the University of Utah sampled wells for environmental tracers that will give us information about the age of groundwater,” he says.
“Unravelling groundwater chemistry and groundwater ages obtained from long screened wells will help inform the industry’s mining practices and environmental management, particularly in relation to dewatering bores and long-term trends in groundwater levels.
“Decommissioning mine sites is a major national and international issue. Understanding groundwater behaviour is fundamental to this issue.”
The ARC Linkage Project partners include Rio Tinto Iron Ore (Dr Shawan Dogramaci), Professor Simmons and Professor Peter Cook from Flinders University, Professor Kip Solomon from University of Utah, Professor Henning Prommer from University of WA and Dr Roland Purtschert from the University of Bern.
The three-year ARC Linkage project is also supporting postdoctoral fellows and postgraduate researchers at the NCGRT.
In a recent paper published in Water Resources Research, NCGRT postdoctoral researcher James McCallum and the team identified modern and historic recharge events in the Pilbara region from tracer-derived groundwater age distributions. The presence of these distinct recharge events gives important insight into groundwater flow conditions over long periods of time.
“Groundwater is front and centre in many contemporary pressing issues,” Professor Simmons says.
“Water scarcity reached crisis point in Australia in the millennium drought and by some estimates, Australia’s population could near double in the next 50 years.
“Climate change is expected to bring drier conditions to already dry parts of the continent.
“Understanding the vital links between water, energy, food, environment, climate and population are massive global challenges.
“Advancing these issues will require rigorous groundwater science, management and policy. It will require long term planning well beyond political and drought cycles.”
Professor Simmons is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering. He is Deputy Chair of the Academy’s Water Forum. He is a member of the Australian Government’s Statutory Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development (IESC) and also a member of the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Roundtable on Unconventional Hydrocarbon Development.
Professor Simmons won national Water Professional of the Year at the annual Australian Water Awards in Sydney on Wednesday. The prestigious national award honours an individual who has displayed passion and commitment to the water industry, while also demonstrating leadership and influence. Almost 1,000 water professionals attended the OzWater’17 gala dinner and awards event. The awards are made by the Australian Water Association, Australia’s peak water industry body, with about 700 corporate members and 5,000 individual members from across the Australian water industry.
Other finalists in this award category were:
- Dr Martin Anda, Program Chair Environmental Engineering, Murdoch University (WA)
- Dr Kevin Boland, Managing Director and Principal Scientist, Tropical Water Solutions (NT)
- Aneurin Hughes, Discipline Leader ‐ Asset Management, Cardno (Queensland)
- Carmel Krogh, Director, Shoalhaven Water (NSW)
- Dr Melita Stevens, Principal Scientist, Melbourne Water (Victoria)
Professor Simmons said he was honoured and humbled to receive this recognition from his peers in the water industry.
“An award like this is never about one person. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the many wonderful students and colleagues – past and present – that I have had the pleasure and privilege to work with over many years.”
“It has been terrific working in the water industry for the last 20 years. There are many challenges ahead and the journey is far from over. I feel like I am just getting started. I look forward to working with the water industry for many more years to come”.
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