Beetaloo Regional Reference Group - Meeting seven Communique

Issued 23 Nov 2022

Published online 17 Nov 2022

Meeting date: Tuesday 10 November 2022

Attendees: nominated representatives of Northern Land Council, Sturt Plateau Best Practice Group, Katherine Town Council, NT Farmers Association, Barkly Regional Council, Roper Gulf Council, special guests and Department of Environment, Parks and Water Security (DEPWS) staff.

Apologies: Sunrise Health, Territory Resource Services Association and Territory Natural Resource Management.


The Beetaloo Regional Reference Group (BRRG) is a consultative forum for communication with key regional stakeholders based in the Beetaloo for guiding and informing the Strategic Regional Environmental and Baseline Assessment (SREBA) studies within the Beetaloo Sub-Basin region.

Progress and updates

Studies from the six domains are now finished and teams are now completing analysis and reporting.

TetraTech presented soil and water quality information under the Environmental Health domain.

There are five ongoing air quality and dust monitoring sites throughout the region, which will continue to collect data throughout 2023. The SREBA team are preparing the data catalogue for accepting and housing the data generated through the SREBA studies. Volunteers were sought for testing of the data catalogue and web systems to test user friendliness. A roadshow for communicating SREBA outputs is planned for early 2023.

Topics of discussion

Feedback was provided from the committee on the accessibility of SREBA outputs, useful data platforms and searchability of SREBA web content. The committee was invited to provide feedback on the data catalogue system whilst it is in development.

Georgina Wiso Water Allocation Plan

Staff from the Water Resource Division presented the Georgina Wiso Water Allocation Plan (the plan) to BRRG members.

The groundwater resource managed through the plan is the Cambrian Limestone Aquifer (CLA). The CLA is an extensive regional aquifer comprising of the Georgina Basin and Wiso Basin, which extends above and beyond the gas bearing Beetaloo Sub-basin. The plan establishes the proportion of water from the aquifer that can be sustainably allocated for drinking water, a range of commercial uses and to reserve water for Aboriginal economic development. The plan prioritises water for non-consumptive uses first, retaining the bulk of water in the environment to maintain important ecological functions and cultural purposes.

The plan has been developed using scientific studies, as well as the more recent water monitoring and assessment underway through the Strategic Regional and Environmental Baseline Assessment (SREBA) for the Beetaloo Sub-basin. The characterisation of the aquifer confirmed it as ‘arid zone’ aquifer and consistent with policy, considers the long term aquifer storage capacity. The current scientific model defines the aquifer storage in the plan area as 747,605,000 ML. Recharge across the plan area is spatially and temporally variable and the annualised average contributes 656,000 ML/year, which means the resource is continuing to fill and increase. Predominately the aquifer in the plan area is greater than 40m below ground level and there is limited independency with groundwater dependant ecosystems (GDEs) at the surface.

As the resource is extensive and current utilisation is low, the plan sets an early and cautious framework for the use of the water in the plan area. The plan estimates the allocations to existing stock and domestic water use as 21,000 ML per year and caps the allocation to petroleum activity at 10,000 ML per year. The plan allocates 24,094 ML per year to the Aboriginal water reserve for Aboriginal economic benefit and may be traded. More than 70% of the allocations have been identified for other uses such as agriculture, mining and other associated potential development in the plan area.

The BRRG discussed and considered the draft plan, its duration and opportunity for feedback, commenting on the importance of highlighting the precautionary approach. The department confirmed that the total water allocations are 40% of annualised recharge per year and will not be ‘mining’ the resource. If there is no recharge in a year this represents a change of 0.04% in the total aquifer storage, although over eight years of the plan the aquifer will continue to increase in volume.

The plan will deliver economic benefit to the region without compromising the valuable water resource and the allocation to the petroleum industry is <4% percent of the water allocated to all beneficial uses.

The plan will be released for public comment for four weeks via Government’s Have Your Say website.

For more information, please read the explanatory notes PDF (767.9 KB).