Clever science helping to secure our groundwater future

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By Ian Williams

Groundwater is one of those little-understood resources that we tend to take for granted – it’s out of sight and to a large degree out of mind.

But as the planet warms and weather records tumble with hotter, drier conditions the critical importance of groundwater is starting to be realised.

That’s in no small part due to the tireless efforts of Adelaide scientist Professor Craig Simmons who’s been a significant contributor to global advances in the science of hydrogeology.

Craig is director of the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training (NCGRT) headquartered at Flinders University.

“It’s now widely accepted that groundwater directly supplies more than 30 per cent of the nation’s consumptive water use and this climbs even higher during periods of drought,” he said.

“It’s the lifeblood of communities, cities, industries and dependent ecosystems. Managing the impact of this rapid increase in extraction and securing its long-term future is highly complex and challenging.”

Craig and his team have been developing the science to understand and manage groundwater, including estimating recharge to aquifers which can stretch over hundreds of thousands of years.

It’s work that earned Craig the title of SA Scientist of the Year in 2015 and Scientist in Residence with the Advertiser.

Since its launch in 2009 the NCGRT hastrained more than 80 PhD students and 80 post doctoral research fellows to ensure Australia has the expertise to expand groundwater research, management and policy.

“The vital role of groundwater in the Australian economy will be even more critical as surface water becomes scarcer in arid and semi-arid regions,” said. Craig.

“A report commissioned by the NCGRT in 2013 found that groundwater directly helps earn the nation at least $34 billion every year across agriculture, mining and industry activity.”

Craig’s groundwater expertise is in strong demand around Australia and overseas. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, and is the only non-American scientist invited to join a new panel established by the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

He’s also Deputy Chair of the Federal Government’s Statutory Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development

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