The North Burdekin Water Board (NBWB) came into existence in 1965 with the South Burdekin Water Board (SBWB) being established the following year in 1966. The Boards were established in response to critically declining groundwater levels, brought about by the combined effects of a major increase in the area assigned to sugar cane and several years of inadequate natural replenishment resulting from drought conditions at that time.
A study of the geology of the 622 km2 Burdekin Delta showed a composition of deltaic sediments resting on an old granite surface. Test drilling revealed an extensive aquifer system which (when full) would represent a storage in excess of 1.23 million megalitres. A further study of the aquifer system deemed it possible to artificially replenish this underground basin and thus, the vision to utilise this rather unique storage was born.
Every major river system has an aquifer of some kind; the Burdekin River has one of the largest coastal aquifers within Australia. The Burdekin Delta has managed its resource wisely through replenishment activities provided exclusively by the two former Water Boards. Lower Burdekin Water (LBW) is continuing to artificially replenish the Burdekin Delta groundwater resource within its respective water area, which was the original charter of the former North and South Burdekin Water Boards.
At the time, the concept of recharge on the scale envisaged was unique in Australia, as was the self-funding and local management aspects of the proposal. Today LBW remains an autonomous statutory groundwater resource management authority, responsible for the economic and environmentally sustainable management of the groundwater resource within its proclaimed authority area.
LBW operates on a user-pays cost recovery basis spending $1 million dollars annually to replenish and manage the aquifer. The sugar industry continues to be the predominant agricultural crop grown within the Burdekin Delta. With principal revenue derived from the sugar industry by way of assessable area charges, a firm partnership between the growers and millers of sugar cane now exists, such that the Miller contributes finance equivalent to one-third of each growers annual assessable area charge.
The success of LBW’s operations over the past 50 years can be attributed to the mechanisms employed to ensure the sustainability of the aquifer. These mechanisms include:
- Direct recharge of the aquifer through artificially constructed soakage pits, where water pumped from the river is diverted into these pits and percolates into the aquifer.
- Recharge through the bed and banks of natural watercourses, which form a large part of LBW’s distribution system.
- Direct supply of water to irrigators, thereby conserving groundwater and lessening the need for artificial replenishment.
- Maintaining water levels within the aquifer and ensuring the quality of water is maintained, providing not only sustainable practices, but environmentally beneficial practice