The capricious nature of our nation’s water resources was evident during 2011–16, with:
- record rainfall and record dryness at local, regional and state scales
- extended and extensive flooding
- national water storage levels varying from above 80 per cent to below 50 per cent
- groundwater systems exhibiting a range of significant trends.
The aquatic environment has responded to the wetter conditions experienced after the sustained impacts of the millennium drought (which occurred from 2000 to 2010—although in some areas it began as early as 1997 and ended as late as 2012). The environment has also responded to variable pressures, as well as to the benefits and detriments arising from the directed management of water resources.
Intense interest in, and debate about, the water-related impacts of coal-seam gas and large coalmining developments have contributed to a large investment in the Bioregional Assessment Programme. This program focuses on the geography, geology, hydrogeology, hydrology and ecology of 6 potentially affected bioregions. These assessments add to the state of knowledge about these systems and describe baseline conditions against which future changes may be measured. The bioregional assessment methodology provides a useful tool for future regional assessments of aquatic environments.
Past variations in the nature, scale and timing of the water component of state and territory SoE reports continue to confound attempts to synthesise these detailed explorations of hydrology and ecology into consistent national reporting. However, other national-scale reporting, such as through the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Bureau of Meteorology, provide a counterpoint, moving us along the path towards ready access to environmental information where and when it is needed.
Overall, we are well placed to assess the state of Australia’s inland water environments. This report presents:
- the natural and anthropogenic pressures on our inland waters
- the state and trends of key components of aquatic environment systems
- the management undertaken to deliver on our water needs—economic, ecological and social
- emerging issues and opportunities.