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Ecosystems and water: environmental tolerances, responses and mitigation

Aquatic ecosystems and water-dependent terrestrial systems (such as flood plain vegetation) can be highly dependent on the timing, quantity and quality of water in streams and groundwater.

Changes in water flows can also affect water temperature and salinity, and the connectivity of stream habitats. Serious, often unintended, damage can be done to these ecosystems, unless the relationships between the health of these ecosystems and water flow and quality are understood.

As well as impacts associated with changes in water flows, this theme includes risks associated with the storage and disposal of saline groundwater, which can be brought to the surface as co-produced water.

Consideration will also be given to how these issues contribute to the overall cumulative impacts of coal seam gas extraction and coal mining, according to different scales (local-regional) and timeframes (tens to thousands of years).

Projects commissioned to date include:

Project title Project description
Modelling water-related ecological responses to coal seam gas extraction and coal mining

This report presents the findings of a project exploring an approach to ecological conceptual modelling aimed at improving the assessment of water-related ecological impacts of coal seam gas extraction and coal mining in Australia. The approach is presented as a series of consecutive steps and illustrated worked examples, and is aimed  at assisting the preparation and review of environmental impact statements (EISs). Through the construction of ecological conceptual models and associated narrative tables that specify hypothesised responses and document supporting evidence, the assumptions about ecological impacts incorporated into EISs are made explicit, response pathways identified and interactive and cumulative effects illustrated. This provides a transparent and consistent framework for the design of monitoring programmes to test the implicit hypotheses.

This work highlights the need for the approaches to modelling and conceptualisation of hydrology and hydrogeology currently used in EISs to be extended to incorporate ecological components. This will facilitate the production of ecohydrological models capable of illustrating likely water‑related ecological responses to coal seam gas extraction and coal mining.

Application of the proposed approach is expected to:

  • enhance capability in the resources industries to identify and predict the water-related impacts of coal seam gas extraction and coal mining, through uptake of the approach to ecological conceptual modelling and integration of the ecological modelling approach with hydrological and hydrogeological modelling and conceptualisation
  • improve identification and understanding of the potential water-related ecological responses to coal seam gas extraction and coal mining in Australia, achieved through assisting the IESC in its evaluation of EIS documentation for coal seam gas and coal mining proposals and provision of advice to regulators
  • provide a framework for ecological conceptual modelling that could be drawn upon in the bioregional assessments.
  • Modelling water-related ecological responses to coal seam gas extraction and coal mining
Background review -
co-produced water - risks to aquatic ecosystems

This review captures the state of knowledge on issues associated with the quantity, quality, timing and potential risks to aquatic ecosystems from co-produced water, including:

  • impacts of changed surface water flow regimes and quality due to discharge of treated co-produced water
  • existing knowledge, including documentation on environmental impact assessments
  • examples of releasing co-produced water into natural flow regimes with a high seasonal variability
  • risk management frameworks and their applicability to coal seam gas and coal mining activities
  • industry practice in managing co-produced water.
  • Background review: Co-produced water - risks to aquatic ecosystems
Great Artesian Basin Springs Survey This report is provided in two volumes and focuses on the history, ecology and hydrogeology of the Great Artesian Basin (GAB) Springs.

This report presents the research findings relating to the ecological and hydrogeological survey of recharge, discharge, and watercourse springs that could be impacted by coal seam gas (CSG) and coal development in the Surat and Bowen Basins. GAB springs occur in clusters known as supergroups, including the Springsure, Eulo, Bourke and Bogan River.

The 'community of native species dependent on natural discharge of groundwater from the Great Artesian Basin' is listed as endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), and thus this report presents results from surveys of all of the EPBC Act listed springs in these four supergroups. Surveying was undertaken in 503 springs in 94 spring complexes that had not previously been surveyed. The key findings include:
Peat swamps - ecology monitoring

This report is one in a series of three reports focused on the Temperate Highland Peat Swamps on Sandstone (THPSS) ecological community and longwall coal mining.

The THPSS is listed as a threatened ecological community under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

This report captures the findings of a research project that:

This report was prepared using information that was publicly available as of early 2013.

Peat swamps - engineering subsidence

This report is one in a series of three reports focused on the Temperate Highland Peat Swamps on Sandstone (THPSS) ecological community and longwall coal mining.

This report captures the findings of a research project that:

This report was prepared using information that was publicly available as of early 2013.

Peat swamps - remediation

This report is one in a series of three reports focused on the Temperate Highland Peat Swamps on Sandstone (THPSS) ecological community and longwall coal mining.

This report captures the findings of a research project that:

This report was prepared using information that was publicly available as of early 2013.