South East Regional Water Balance Phase 2

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Project Partners:

Flinders University and CSIRO

Research Theme:



Project Overview

The overall purpose of the South East Regional Water Balance Project was to address a number of gaps in the conceptual model of the overall water balance of the Lower Limestone Coast Prescribed Wells Area (LLC PWA) and bring together all existing and new knowledge into a prototype model that, with future work, will enable assessments of risks to groundwater resources and wetlands from changing climate, land use and water management practices.

Phase 1, completed and reported on in November 2013, comprised a series of preliminary investigations into various components of the water balance of the LLC PWA, and development of the framework for a regional scale numerical groundwater flow model. 

Phase 2 consisted of three main tasks:

  1. Development of a regional water balance model
  2. Recharge modelling
  3. Wetland connectivity modelling

Progress Update and Key Findings

The aim of Task 1 was to develop a regional groundwater flow model of the Lower Limestone Coast Prescribed Wells Area (LLC PWA), including both major aquifers, with the following primary objectives:

  1. Assess and improve knowledge of the regional water balance, including recharge, groundwater extraction, groundwater inflows and outflows across the boundaries of the PWA, and outflows at the coast.
  2. Quantify available surface water and groundwater volumes at a regional scale.
  3. Identify critical knowledge gaps.

Longer-term objectives of the regional model were to:

  • Provide boundary conditions for future local scale models of “hotspot areas” or areas where local groundwater flow processes are important, e.g. wetlands or sections of the drainage network.
  • Act as a tool to investigate the impacts of climate, land use and water management scenarios on aspects of the regional water balance and on groundwater levels at a regional scale.

The regional groundwater flow model developed in Phase 2 covers the entire regional groundwater flow system that includes the LLC PWA. As such, it covers the Tertiary Gambier Basin, extending east into Victoria, as well as part of the south-western Murray Basin to the north of the LLC PWA. Task 1 also included a number of activities aimed at improving the outcomes of the regional groundwater flow model. These included:

  • Development and testing of a new hydrostratigraphic model of the study area in collaboration with DEWNR.
  • A comprehensive assessment of recharge and evapotranspiration (ET) processes.
  • Development of methodologies for the accurate representation of recharge and evapotranspiration processes in shallow water table areas into a regional groundwater flow model.
  • Development of preliminary historical land use maps to better quantify historical recharge.
  • Development of a recent (metered) and historical (estimated) groundwater extraction dataset and use of this to constrain recharge estimates for irrigated areas.

In Task 2, a new MODFLOW net recharge package was developed to incorporate the results of an unsaturated zone model through a lookup-table approach. This has the benefit of being able to incorporate the effects of shallow water tables on recharge, as well as changing rainfall and land use, with much lower model run-times than a fully-coupled unsaturated-saturated zone model. As rainfall recharge is a major input to the water balance for the South East, this activity was designated as a separate task in Phase 2 of the project, with the following objectives:

  1. Complete one-dimensional numerical recharge modelling, conditioned to the recharge rates estimated in Phase 1.
  2. Develop look-up tables that are based on: monthly rainfall, month of year, vegetation type, soil type, and depth to watertable.
  3. Develop a new MODFLOW package capable of interpreting the look-up tables, and trial the implementation of this within the regional groundwater flow model.

Future water allocation policy exercises in the LLC PWA will need to evaluate potential impacts on wetlands and other groundwater-dependent ecosystems. However, by necessity, the regional groundwater flow model was developed at a coarse spatial scale (1 km by 1 km cells) relative to the size of most wetlands in the region (a few km2 or less). Thus, the aim for Task 3 was to develop a complementary approach to the regional model to help evaluate potential impacts of future changes in climate, land-use and water allocation policy on wetland water level regimes. To achieve this, Task 3 had three objectives:

  1. Development of a conceptual framework for wetland – groundwater interactions in the LLC PWA;
  2. Inform the development of this framework by evaluating groundwater – surface water interactions for three wetlands in the region (Deadmans Swamp, Bool Lagoon and Lake Robe) using historical data and an environmental tracer field study;
  3. Develop a MODFLOW-based wetland – groundwater modelling framework representative of deflation basins and other shallow wetlands in the region.

The three wetlands selected for the field study were hypothesised to represent a regional recharge (Deadmans Swamp), flow-through (Bool Lagoon) and discharge wetland (Lake Robe) along a regional hydrogeological system.

Project Impacts

The South East Regional Water Balance Project has delivered the following outcomes to support water resource management for the South East:

A spatially continuous net recharge dataset for the period 2001 to 2010. For the 10 year period 2001-2010 the areal average net recharge was found to be 40 mm/yr.

An assessment of factors controlling net and gross recharge.

A regional scale numerical groundwater flow model that:

  • Provides a platform for exploring the water balance of the LLC PWA based on current knowledge and data.
  • Incorporates all available relevant data and knowledge on the hydrological system in the model domain.
  • Uses gross recharge inputs from a LEACHM unsaturated zone model that was developed as part of the project and which provides monthly outputs for the period 1965 to 2013.
  • Uses sampled land surface variability to parameterise evapotranspiration and water table depth relationships, to address concerns about upscaling groundwater evapotranspiration within regional-scale models.
  • Has undergone preliminary calibration using available data, including chemistry and isotope derived fluxes and groundwater flow information, and “soft knowledge”.
  • Conforms to the Australian Groundwater Modelling Guidelines and DEWNR’s Groundwater Model Warehouse Guidelines.
  • Can effectively support the development of local scale numerical models to address local scale policy questions, including the models being developed through the Wetland – groundwater connectivity project.

Estimates of the regional water balance for the LLC PWA that are based upon the best available data and knowledge, and a new understanding of how this water balance changes over time.

Recommendations for the areas of the conceptual model that require further investigation (critical knowledge gaps) and for the direction of future modelling activities.

A better understanding of the dynamics of rainfall recharge in the South East, and a range of new tools that enable the representation of the depth to water table dependence of this process in groundwater flow models.

A new lookup-table based approach that uses a newly developed MODFLOW package (the NetR package) to incorporate the effects of depth to watertable on recharge and evapotranspiration into MODFLOW regional groundwater flow models. A lookup table has been developed for the study area in the South East, and the methodology has been tested with the regional groundwater flow model, however, further calibration is required. Once fully validated this approach will be applicable to any area with shallow water tables.

A conceptual model for the geological factors determining groundwater-surface water interactions for South-East wetlands.

An evaluation of regional and local factors controlling groundwater – surface water interactions at three high value wetlands (Lake Robe, Bool Lagoon and Deadmans Swamp.

A new methodology for assessing the risks to wetland water leve regimes from changes in regional groundwater levels.

Research Outputs

South-East Regional Groundwater Flow Model - LEACHM Model

South-East Regional Groundwater Flow Model

South-East Wetlands-Groundwater Interaction Model

Goyder South East Project - A new approach for modelling groundwater recharge in the South East of South Australia using MODFLOW

South East Regional Balance Project - Phase 2 Project Summary Report

South East Regional Water Balance Project - Phase 2 Development of a Regional Groundwater Flow Model

Development of a Groundwater Extraction Dataset for the South East of South Australia: 1970-2013

Development of Preliminary 1969 and 1983 Land Use Maps for the South East of SA

A Hydrostratigraphic Model for the Shallow Aquifer Systems of the Gambier Basin and South Western Murray Basin

A MODFLOW-based approach to simulating wetland-groundwater interactions in the Lower Limestone Coast Prescribed Wells Area

Groundwater-surface water interactions at Bool Lagoon, Lake Robe and Deadman Swamp (Limestone Coast, SA): Data review

Evaluation of groundwater-surface water interactions at Bool Lagoon and Lake Robe using environmental tracers

Project News

Chris Wright

Manager Water Science, DEW

Chris Wright holds significant experience in public sector senior leadership, having led policy, scientific and operational business units over the last twelve years in both State and Commonwealth government agencies. Chris has excellent experiences in leading policy and strategy formulation. He is skilled in building and maintaining networks across the public and private sectors to facilitate business delivery; leading and negotiating with others to achieve outcomes; and in bridging the science-policy gap, drawing on earlier roles in geospatial information systems (GIS) consulting. Chris’s formal qualifications include a Bachelor of Social Science, a Masters of Spatial Information Science and graduation from the AICD Company Directors course in 2019.

Dr Ilka Wallis

Senior Lecturer, Flinders University

Dr Ilka Wallis is a hydrogeologist with areas of expertise in quantitative hydrogeology and geochemistry. Ilka focuses on the development of reactive geochemical transport models which integrate fundamental processes that are normally studied in isolation (hydrogeological, mineralogical, geochemical and biochemical).

Ilka is also an Adjunct Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Manitoba, Canada since 2017.

Peter Goonan

Environmental Science Branch, EPA

Peter Goonan is the Principal Aquatic Biologist in the Environmental Science Branch of the EPA. He has over 30 years’ experience monitoring the condition of aquatic ecosystems in SA and assessing the environmental effects caused by discharges, deposits and contaminants entering inland and coastal waters. He specialises in aquatic invertebrate identification and their responses to contaminants and water quality stressors. He also provides expert professional advice relating to water quality risks, regulation, policy, and strategic directions, and represents the EPA as an expert witness in court.

Dr Paul Monis

Manager, Research Stakeholders and Planning, SA Water

Dr Paul Monis is a technical expert within SA Water’s Business Services group, which provides scientific expertise to support the delivery of water and wastewater services to SA Water’s customers. He has specialist expertise in the areas of biotechnology and microbiology, with almost 20 years’ experience applying DNA-based and other technologies to address water quality challenges posed by microorganisms, especially enteric pathogens. Dr Monis also holds title of Adjunct Associate Professor at Flinders University, the University of Adelaide and UniSA.

Jennie Fluin

Principal Advisor Research Partnerships, DEW

Jennie’s role in the Department for Environment and Water (DEW) allows her to foster and strengthen opportunities for researchers to better connect with government to enable evidence-based decision making. Jennie has extensive experience working in both universities and government, allowing her to bridge the divide between the two sectors. She is focused on connecting natural resource researchers with natural resource decision makers, and facilitating fit for purpose partnerships.

Dr Tanya Doody

Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO

Dr Tanya Doody is a Principal Research Scientist working on high impact spatial eco-hydrological projects within CSIRO’s Land and Water Business Unit. Dr Doody leads the Managing Water Ecosystems Group, based in Adelaide, Albury and Canberra and has significant experience in quantifying the water requirements of vegetation and at times, their impact on water resources. This involves ecophysiological field-based research to underpin remote sensing tools to scale regionally to improve our understanding of the effect of flood regimes on the health of water-dependent ecosystems on the Murray-Darling Basin floodplains. Additional research includes investigating the ecological response of vegetation to water availability and environmental water to inform integrated basin water planning and management.

Professor Lin Crase

Dean of Programs (Accounting & Finance), UniSA

Professor Lin Crase is Professor of Economics and Dean of Programs (Accounting & Finance) at UniSA. He joined UniSA in February 2016 as Head of School of Commerce. Prior to commencing at UniSA, Lin was Professor and Director of the Centre for Water Policy and Management at La Trobe University.

Lin’s research has focused on applied economics in the context of water. He has analysed water markets and the property rights that attend them, water pricing and numerous applications of water policy. Whilst his expertise includes the Murray-Darling Basin in Australia, he has also worked on projects in south Asia, Japan and Europe. Lin has published over 100 journal articles, numerous book chapters, four books and a range of other papers and opinion pieces.

Professor Justin Brookes

Director, Water Research Centre, University of Adelaide

Justin has broad research interests in limnology and water treatment with a primary focus on coupling between hydrodynamics, biology and water quality contaminants such as cyanobacteria and pathogens. He is a founding member of the management committee of the IWA Specialist Group on Lake and Reservoir Management and member of the Steering Committee for the Global Lakes Ecological Observatory Network.

Justin has a PhD and a Bachelor of Science degree with Honours from the University of Adelaide.

Daniel Flaherty


Daniel Flaherty is the Accountant for the Goyder Institute for Water Research.

Daniel has extensive experience in higher education having worked in senior financial management roles at the University of South Australia, Flinders University and the University of Adelaide over the past 26 years. Daniel has also been a Board Director on a number of university related entities. Prior to that, Daniel has worked in a range of agencies in the Commonwealth and State Governments.

Daniel is a Fellow of CPA Australia and has a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Adelaide.

Dr Alec Rolston

Interim Director

Alec Rolston joined the Institute in 2021 as Research Program Manager of the Goyder Institute’s research projects in the Healthy Coorong, Healthy Basin program. He has extensive experience in integrated water resource management, integrated catchment management, drinking water source protection and wetland ecology, conservation and management across Europe and Australia.

Alec holds a PhD from the National University of Ireland Maynooth and has worked with An Fóram Uisce|The Water Forum and the Dundalk Institute of Technology in Ireland as well as the MANTEL Innovative Training Network across Europe.

Alec spent his early career in Adelaide working with Flinders University through the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth (CLLAMM) Ecology Research Cluster and within the Department for Environment and Water.

Daniel Pierce

Research and Development Officer

Daniel Pierce has managed research projects at the Goyder Institute for Water Research since November 2017 under both the second and third terms of the Institute.

Daniel brings experience in project management and knowledge transfer and application from 4 years working as a Senior Hydrogeologist in the Department for Environment and Water (DEW) in South Australia and from 13 years of private sector work in environmental management, science and engineering in Australia and the South Pacific. His work with DEW has included providing technical advice to the development and revision of Water Allocation Plans around South Australia in collaboration with researchers and policy makers, and managing a team of groundwater modellers and hydrogeologists involved in an assortment of water resource management issues.

Daniel has a Bachelor of Engineering (Hons, Environmental) and a Bachelor of Science (Geography) from the University of Western Australia.

Professor Enzo Lombi

Dean of Research, UniSA STEM

Professor Lombi’s main contributions to environmental research cover various aspects of contaminant risk assessment, biogeochemistry, ecotoxicology and waste management. Furthermore, the methodological development he has pursued in his research has provided the basis for collaborative efforts in a variety of research areas ranging from soil fertility and plant physiology to human health issues related to contaminant uptake via occupational exposure and diet. In the last few years he has been increasingly focusing on the transformation and toxicity of manufactured nanomaterials in the environment.

Dr Carmel Pollino

Research Director Land and Water, CSIRO

Dr Carmel Pollino is a Research Director for Land and Water at CSIRO. She has 20 years of experience working on water issues in Australia and throughout Asia. Carmel has degrees in science and environmental law and works across the science and policy interface. Significant areas of research in Environmental Flows, Hydrology, Ecology and Integrated River Basin Planning. Carmel is the lead and also a contributor to global working groups on water and has published widely in this domain.

Professor Bronwyn Gillanders

Head of School of Biological Sciences, The University of Adelaide

Professor Bronwyn Gillanders is interim Head of School of Biological Sciences at the University of Adelaide. Prof Gillanders completed her BSc at the University of Canterbury, MSc at the University of Otago and her PhD at the University of Sydney. She has a research background in environmental science focused predominantly on freshwater and marine ecology.

Her research interests include integrated marine management; coastal carbon opportunities; multiple use activities and cumulative impact assessment; biology, ecology and fisheries of cephalopods; stocking and provenance of fish; plastics in the marine environment including in seafood; use of fish bones (and other calcified structures) for assessing ecological and environmental change. She has trained and mentored ~70 Honours and Higher Degree Research students and shaped the future of 1000s of students through her undergraduate teaching. She is passionate about encouraging capable women to enter and remain in science careers.

Dan Jordan

Director, Water Security, Policy and Planning, Department for Environment and Water (DEW)

Dan Jordan is the Director, Water Security, Policy and Planning, Department for Environment and Water (DEW). Dan is also the Basin Officials Committee Alternate Member for South Australia.

Professor Okke Batelaan

Dean, School of the Environment, Flinders University

Professor Okke Batelaan is a graduate of the Free University of Amsterdam, Netherlands (MSc – Hydrogeology) and of the Free University Brussels, Belgium (PhD – Engineering). He worked for more than 20 years at the Free University Brussels and also led the hydrogeology group at the KU Leuven, Belgium since 2006. He was chairman of the Interuniversity Programme in Water Resources Engineering.

Since 2012 Okke Batelaan is Strategic Professor in Hydrogeology and currently Dean of the School of the Environment, Flinders University. Okke has broad experience in teaching groundwater hydrology, groundwater modelling, GIS and remote sensing for hydrological applications. He was supervisor of more than 140 MSc and 25 PhD students. He has extensive research experience and a publication record in shallow groundwater hydrology and modeling, recharge-discharge estimation and modeling, urban hydrology and distributed modelling, ecohydrology and impacts of land use and climate change on groundwater systems. He coordinated and participated in a large number of projects in Europe, Africa, South America, Asia and Australia. He is editor-in-chief of Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies and of MDPI-Hydrology.