In a land of droughts and floods, groundwater management remains a big perennial issue in Australia, says SA’s 2016 Premier’s Water Medal winner Professor Craig Simmons.
With more than one-third of the country’s water coming from groundwater reserves, its contribution to the economy is valued at more than $34 billion every year.
However, Professor Simmons says government and public enthusiasm for water management, research and policy improvement mirrors the drought cycle.
It’s an important resource which needs a future focus, he says, and one that only gets the research funding and the “attention it needs” during times of shortages and restrictions.
“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,” Professor Simmons 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, all of which must coexist under the increasing pressure of climate change.”
“When we have a big drought, hundreds of millions of dollars are found for groundwater research monitoring and management,” he says in the Flinders University 50th Anniversary publication, The Investigator Transformed.
“New projects are created and treated with great importance, but then when the drought breaks, no-one much wants to think about it again for a while – even though we know that droughts are cyclical, particularly in a country like Australia.
“There are opportunities to develop new solutions for Australia and the world as we confront the challenges of droughts to come, but we need to do the homework to be able to respond to critical changes.”
Professor Simmons says groundwater and aquifer depletion is a major issue around the world, creating “huge problems” for people in populous countries such as China, Africa and the US.
“The second big issue is pollution. You can’t see the water under the ground; data is limited and aquifers are typically very complicated. We need to track the interaction between lakes, rivers and oceans above land and the aquifers beneath (because) contamination is often spread between water courses. “
An international expert in hydrogeology and groundwater management and training, Professor Craig Simmons has been honoured by the Australian Water Association for his contribution to the industry.
Professor Simmons, director of the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training (NCGRT) based at Flinders University, last week won the Premier’s Water Medal for Water Professional of the Year at the South Australian Water Awards in Adelaide.
The awards acknowledge innovative excellence, creative solutions and exceptional leadership by individuals and organisations in the water sector.
Several of the SA winners will stand for the equivalent Australian Water Awards to be presented at Ozwater’17 in Sydney next year.
The 2015 South Australian Scientist of the Year, Professor Simmons is a fellow of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering.
He established the NCGRT to expand national and international research and training in groundwater science, education and policy reform. Professor Simmons has been a significant contributor to global advances in the science of hydrogeology.
The NCGRT recently joined the Groundwater Solutions Initiative for Policy and Practice, a partnership is led by the International Water Management Institute which aims to further connect and strengthen current groundwater initiatives.
More than 80 postdoctoral fellows and 80 PhD students have gone through the centre since 2009, helping to make Flinders University an international magnet for groundwater researchers.
“Our graduates are getting snapped up to great jobs in government and industry, developing policies and innovations that are helping keep Australia on the right track,” Professor Simmons said.
“I think that’s the most satisfying aspect of our progress. Research is critically important, but we also have to make sure that the research that we are doing is used. Our graduates occupying key roles in national and international water management and policy is helping to make sure that can happen.”
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