Groundwater modelling

The department uses computer-based models to better understand groundwater flow systems. They are the most sophisticated tools available for simulating aquifer behaviour, and for predicting the effects of groundwater use. They can tell us the volume of water flowing into an aquifer and where that water is coming from.

A groundwater model is a computer-based representation of the essential features of a natural hydrogeological system that uses the laws of science and mathematics. Its two key components are conceptualisation and the mathematical code. Conceptualisation is an idealised representation of the hydrogeology: aquifer dimensions, hydraulic characteristics, and the recharge and discharge processes within the system. The mathematical code is a set of equations which, subject to certain assumptions, quantifies the physical processes active in the aquifer system being modelled.

There are many computer programs which model groundwater systems. We have chosen to use the world's most commonly used and accepted standard code, called MODFLOW, to assess sustainable levels of water extraction from regional aquifers.

A groundwater model which represents the groundwater system (aquifer) to an adequate level of detail can be used as a predictive scientific tool to quantify the impacts on the system of specified hydrological, pumping or irrigation stresses. Common applications of a regional scale groundwater model include:

  • Evaluating recharge, discharge and aquifer storage processes (water resource assessment)
  • Quantifying the sustainable yield (economically and environmentally sound allocation policies)
  • Predicting the impact of alternative hydrological or development scenarios (to assist decision making)
  • Risk based resource management (assessment of alternative policies).

The modelling process involves several stages such as conceptualisation, data collation, software selection, model design and model calibration against measured/observed data. A sensitivity analysis is also undertaken to evaluate the influence of parameter uncertainty on model outputs. After the completion, models are expected to go through a process of peer review. Although this process consumes time and resources, it still remains the most effective way of ensuring model accuracy and robustness, hence acceptance by the broader community involved in water sharing.

Models exist where the groundwater system is under stress from high levels of use or at risk in other ways such as from salinisation or contamination. For example, groundwater models were used to develop the water sharing plans for the large inland alluvial aquifer systems of NSW, as shown on the GFM Alluvial Aquifers map (PDF, 155.86 KB).

Groundwater model reports

We are currently developing groundwater models for alluvium in the Murray Darling Basin. These models and the reports that accompany them are scheduled for completion by 2019, in accordance with the timeframes for the delivery of Water Resource Plans.

In 2012, we developed a groundwater model for the Upper Lachlan alluvial aquifers to assist the community and resource managers to develop long term strategies to ensure environmentally responsible and economically sustainable use of this valuable natural resource.

In 2010 a groundwater model study for the Upper Macquarie alluvial aquifer was completed.

Groundwater model reports for other areas will be added to this page as they become available.