Today Mark asked the Minister for Human Services, representing the Minister for Environment and Water, about the decline and ultimate extinction of South Australia's mound springs which are recognised nationally as an endangered ecological community.
The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: Some of the jewels in the crown of the South Australian outback are the various mound springs which occur when water from the Great Artesian Basin reaches the surface under pressure. These springs and the ecosystems around them are dependent on continued natural flows and water pressure of an intact Great Artesian Basin water system. The mound springs are recognised nationally as an endangered ecological community.
The reduction in water pressure in the Great Artesian Basin, through extraction from artesian bores, has been the primary cause of hundreds of mound springs across the basin drying up since the first bores were sunk in the late 1800s. These days, the biggest water user in the region is the BHP Billiton Olympic Dam mine, which is set to extract 50 million litres of water (or 20 Olympic-size swimming pools) every single day for the next 25 years.
Since the Olympic Dam mine began extracting water in 1982, impacts on the mound springs have continued to increase in severity as the extraction rate continues its inevitable rise. Many springs have declined and others have stopped flowing altogether.
My questions of the minister are:
1. How is it possible for the decline and ultimate extinction of many of these mound springs to be reversed if BHP Billiton is able to drastically increase its take of water from the Great Artesian Basin?
2. What steps will the government take to protect South Australia's iconic mound springs into the future?
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (Minister for Human Services): I thank the honourable member for his important question. In fact, I think he and I may well have been members of the Environment, Resources and Development Committee at the same time when we went to areas of the Far North in South Australia where the mound springs exist. Indeed, they are environmentally unique and definitely worth protecting.
I also recall that there was quite an extensive program of capping of bores, which the federal government may well have funded, that was administered through the then department—it might have been DWALABI or DEW or whichever former incarnation that was. But in relation to the honourable member's specific questions, I will take those on notice and bring back a response for him from the relevant minister.