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Draft Strategic Management Plan for Great Artesian Basin out for Public Comment

The Australian Government’s Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has released for comment a draft Strategic Management Plan for the Great Artesian Basin. FOMS Executive members have reviewed the draft Strategic Management Plan and have submitted comments to the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources. FOMS’ main comments are summarised below:

  • The draft Great Artesian Basin Strategic Management Plan (GABSMP) is clearly a “high-level” document. As such, the broad statements relating to GAB / mound springs are strongly supported. For example:
    • The Basin is a finite and declining resource;
    • Water extraction has had a significant impact on water pressure and flow rates of springs in certain areas;
    • The need to manage water flows, pressure and quality to support groundwater-dependent
  • While FOMS is very supportive of the above as over-arching comments, the group has a number of concerns about the
    • The Strategic Management Plan is largely devoid of strategy. It has a focus on general objectives and desired outcomes but very little guidance (strategy) on how the objectives and outcomes are to be achieved. Further, any discussion about priorities, partnerships and targets is only included in the most general
    • The draft GABSMP is focused on the hydrology of the However, there is no recognition that the conservation of groundwater-dependent ecosystems, such as GAB springs, is linked with other factors such as grazing by introduced stock and feral animals, weed invasion, introduction of non-native aquatic fauna and, in some instances, interactions with surface water flows. The vast majority of GAB springs in South Australia are on pastoral lease land and are therefore subject to ongoing grazing pressures and a similar situation applies in other states. A small number of springs on pastoral lands have been protected but most remain unprotected and a strategy is needed to address that.
    • It is acknowledged that the regulation of grazing pressure on springs is a responsibility of State jurisdictions, but the risk to springs resulting from grazing and other mechanical disturbance is a Basin-wide strategic issue that needs to be addressed in this plan.

In summary, FOMS advocates that the draft GABSMP be subject to substantial revisions to address comments such as the above and to provide a more strategic and comprehensive basis for management of the GAB and its associated ecosystems with much clearer recognition of the international significance of GAB springs.

The GAB and Drought Relief

Some thoughts from FOMS Patron, Lynn Brake

Over the past few months the media has been filled with information about the effect of the current drought on primary producers, especially in the drier parts of Australia. In most of the country underlain by the GAB the effect of the dry weather has been exceptionally severe. Water from the GAB is the only water to sustain life and supports all human activity in much arid and semi-arid parts of Australia. There is no alternative source. More than 120 towns, hundreds of pastoral stations, mining and petroleum industries and visitors rely all on GAB water. There are more than 34,000 water bores in the GAB. They support more than $12bil in production and have a replacement cost of more than $4bil. There are more than 6000 GAB springs. These and the groundwater dependent ecosystems that they support are sites of immense cultural and natural value. The GAB is one of the largest artesian Basins in the world and unquestionably Australia’s most important groundwater resource.

Recent research by Geoscience Australia demonstrates that recharge rates into the GAB from rain along the dividing range is as much as 90% less than indicated by previous studies. This means that we are effectively ‘mining ‘water from the GAB. Pressure is naturally falling; this is being accelerated by water extraction through bores. As a result, the judicious use of GAB water is essential to eliminate any waste and sustain the benefits that we value from the GAB. The springs will be affected and many even dry completely with just a small pressure drop. Pressure is not the only issue however. As islands of wet in an otherwise sea of dry springs attract animals from a great distance to water and feed on the vegetation in and around the spring vents. The impact of these animals risks the natural and cultural values that springs support.

So far the risk to overexploitation of the GAB is being quite well managed. If we are judicious and diligent and work cooperatively together to manage the risks to artesian pressure and maintain the surface structures around springs and the Ecosystems that they support the GAB will continue to provide water and benefits for people, industries and spring fed ecosystems for many years to come.

GAB spring on Finniss Springs (L) and Bore control infrastructure (R)

Riding the old Ghan

Reflections and memories from Tony Latz

One of the Old Ghan steam locomotives

What has the old Ghan line got to do with mound springs? The overland telegraph line basically followed the early European explorer’s route north and this route took advantage of mound springs along the way. The old Ghan line more or less followed the telegraph line north through the springs country and then on up into the NT to the Alice.

When I first rode on the Ghan it was still the real thing – a steam train! Exciting times for a young lad from the bush, going down to the big smoke (Adelaide) on the Ghan. Dad was head stockman on Hermannsburg station and once every three years he had three months “furlough” which meant heading down south. When furlough finally came around there was much anticipation and excitement in the build up to departure day. First up it was onto the ex-army Maple Leaf Chev truck and off to the Alice. And then finally all aboard the train and ready for departure.

The best part was the food. Awe inspiring stuff for a young bushie, being ushered into the dining car and confronted with crispy white table cloths with flash Commonwealth Railways crockery and big heavy silver cutlery all engraved CR. And being waited on by blokes in black pants, cummerbunds and bow ties. I can still visualise them swaying down the aisle in time with the rocking of the train balancing four bowls of soup.

We travelled second class of course but that was still pretty flash. The cabins were all timber panelling with a chromed wash basin that folded out. There were two top bunks and the two leather seats below folded down into bunks. I remember being impressed by the thick red velvet covered rope strung across and threaded though leather thongs that stopped (most) people from falling out of the top bunks.

So we clickedy clacked our way down south stopping regularly at sundry sidings and railway towns to drop off and pick up people and odds and sods and to refill the steam engine’s water tanks and coal tenders. Places like Oodnadatta and

Marree were busy little railway towns in those days and they like all the other stops came to life with the arrival of the Ghan.

Down into the gibber country past Oodnadatta and a buzz went through the train when the conductor announced that the crossing of the Algebuckina Bridge was imminent. Heads poked out of windows and everybody oohed and aahed as this awesome construction over the Neales River swished past. Onward then to William Creek, one of the more memorable stops. The William Creek Hotel of today is still fairly basic but back then it consisted of not much more than a small tin shed.

It was a dry train and the weather was hot and three days was a long time for many of the thirsty passengers on board. So no sooner had the conductor announced “next stop William Creek” and the train screeched to a halt than a stream of thirsty punters poured out of the carriages and disappeared into the pub. Eventually there was a warning blast of the train whistle and a line of refreshed and slightly tipsy souls begin to trickle out of the pub and scramble aboard the train. When the train huffed and puffed itself into motion the trickle turned into a stream of unsteady punters dashing after the moving train and scrambling onto any of the departing carriages they managed to run down.

And so down the line to Marree with the usual throng milling around and on through the Pichi Richi pass to Pt Augusta. Here we climbed aboard the broad gauge train with a big powerful steam engine up front and took off at great speed for Adelaide.

Grazing Trial Infrastructure established on Billa Kalina Spring

Location of Billa Kalina Spring

The Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources Desert Jewels project, as referred to in the previous item, has also resulted in the establishment of fencing around a mound spring on Billa Kalina Station for the purpose of a grazing trial. DEWNR provided the fencing materials and Billa Kalina lessee Colin Greenfield has now completed the fencing work. In effect this will enable three grazing scenarios to be assessed:

  • Cattle will be permanently excluded from the spring vent and its immediate environs;
  • Another larger area including part of the spring tail is fenced but cattle will be allowed to graze this area from time to time;
  • Another section of the spring tail is outside of the fencing and thus will be permanently available for gazing by

During 2016, FOMS members Bren and Elizabeth Lay and Bernice Cohen collected vegetation data at the site and established photopoints prior to the fencing. In May 2017, FOMS members Bruce Gotch, Colin Harris and Simon Lewis inspected the completed fencing work and took the photographs included below.

It is expected that the actual grazing regimes to be applied within the trial area will be the subject of discussion between DEWNR and the pastoral lessee. FOMS may have some involvement in this and may assist with vegetation monitoring.

Section of spring tail to be periodically grazed
Protected spring pool
Indicative fence lay-out at Billa Kalina Spring: vent (small red enclosure) permanently protected; part of spring tail to be periodically grazed; part of tail outside of fence and open to grazing

New Signage Installed at the Peake

Flashback to 2008. Then Peake manager Jim Lomas drills holes for the new signs with guidance from Colin Harris

Those who have visited the old Overland Telegraph sites at Strangways Springs and the Peake will be familiar with the small signs that identify the various buildings which link with both the pastoral and telecommunications history of these sites. At the Peake, the original building identifier signs were installed by FOMS members Colin Harris, Simon Lewis and Sue Black in 2008, with welcome assistance from then Peake station manager, Jim Lomas and his partner Sarah Amey. However, in the prevailing harsh conditions the signs have crazed and deteriorated to the stage of requiring replacement.

Prior to the 2018 FOMS working bee, FOMS liaised with Heritage staff of the Department for Environment and Water about replacement signage. The Department funded the new signs and these were installed as part of the working bee. FOMS stalwart Bruce Gotch led the sign installation party with assistance and guidance from Sherrie Gotch and Alan Williams. Many thanks to Bruce, Sherrie and Alan and it is expected that the new signs will achieve at least another decade of effective life.

2018. Bruce Gotch installs a new sign under the watchful gaze of Alan Williams and Sherrie Gotch
One of the newly installed signs

FOMS conducts successful Working Bee, May 2018

L to R: Alan Williams, Bruce Gotch, Sherrie Gotch, John Tagell, Rick Moore, Lynn Brake, Kate Brake, Ross Smith, Bernice Cohen.
Photo: Simon Lewis

The Friends of Mound Springs group held its main working bee for 2018 from 19 to 25 May. Participants were Bruce and Sherrie Gotch, Alan Williams, Lynn and Kate Brake, Rick Moore, John Tagell, Ross Smith, Bernice Cohen and Simon Lewis. Colin Harris was a late withdrawal with a thumb fracture.

Bopeechee Spring showing impacts from horses

Conditions were fine throughout with some cloud cover on 20 May but otherwise mainly sunny. Day temperatures 22 to 25 and night temperatures around 8 to 12 degrees.

Participants travelled independently to Roxby Downs on 19 May, before heading up the Borefield Road to camp on the Gregory Creek about 100km north of Olympic Dam.

Over the ensuing four days the group applied itself the following tasks:

  • Monitoring of three springs (Beatrice, Bopeechee and HBO004) on Finniss Springs. These springs were burnt in 2016 as a trial primarily to assess options for the management of prolific growth of reeds (Phragmites). In a 2017 inspection, it was noted that horses on Finniss Springs were impacting on both Bopeechee and HBO 004. The 2018 inspection showed that the Phragmites regrowth at Bopeechee has now been grazed to ground level by the horses. Impacts by horses have therefore compromised the effectiveness of this trial. FOMS plans to continue monitoring at these springs but the value of this exercise in monitoring the response of Phragmites to fire has been diminished.
  • Maintenance of the walking trail and replenishment of brochures at Strangways Springs. The walking trails were in good condition although there are sections of the Springs Walk that would benefit from clearer definition. In addition, the temporary sign warning people not to climb the Cutting Grass Spring will need replacement in the next year or two. The bayonet gates at Strangways remain in good order
  • Installation of new signage and walking trail maintenance at the Peake Overland Telegraph site (see separate item in this newsletter about the new signage). As at Strangways, the walking trails at the Peake were in good shape, requiring only minor attention. Some members of the group proffered the view that the Creek Walk could be improved by extending the formal trail out to the cemetery – something for further consideration.
Peake carpark – bollards missing

The group also noted some recent vandalism at the Peake carpark. Three of fifteen timber bollards – installed by FOMS ten years ago to define the carpark and prevent unwanted vehicle access to the site – had been removed, apparently to be used as firewood. The FOMS group constructed a low stone wall to block the gap created but a more lasting solution will be needed. The current plan is to replace all of the timber bollards with UV stable recycled plastic bollards.

Following the work at the Peake, the FOMS group journeyed south to Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park, to tackle two main tasks:

  • Check on cattle intrusion into the Park, particularly in the southern sections. It has been evident for some time that the Park boundary fence has weak points at one or two drainage lines, enabling cattle to access the Park from the neighbouring pastoral property. While cattle were still present at Buttercup Spring, it was evident that fencing repair work was underway to rectify the situation and FOMS has been advised that this is a result of a cooperative approach between the Department for Environment and Water and the managers of the adjoining Stuart Creek property. (During a subsequent inspection in early July 2018, no cattle were noted within the )
  • An initial reconnaissance to assess the potential of establishing a walking trail from near Blanche Cup out to the extinct mound spring that is Hamilton Hill. This showed that there is potential for an interesting walk, but to make it really worthwhile the walk should venture to the top of Hamilton Hill. The difficulty is that for the most part the slopes of Hamilton Hill are steep and stony and a safe access route for public use has not yet been identified. If a preferred route is identified there will need to be a formal assessment and approvals process involving the Department for Environment and Water and the Arabana people.
    At Wabma Kadarbu the two main interpretive signs at Blanche Cup had deteriorated and this information has since been passed on to Department for Environment and Water staff. A brief inspection of Little Bubbler spring was also undertaken. This spring is of interest in that it was free of Phragmites until the early 2000s. Some growth of Phragmites was noted at the spring vent at that time but its rate of spread since that time has been quite limited – just two or three metres around the spring vent. The factors affecting the establishment and spread of Phragmites are still not fully understood.

The FOMS working bee concluded in style, with lunch at the Curdimurka Siding on the return journey and a final night at the Eldo Hotel at Woomera. Many thanks to all.

Bernice Cohen, Simon Lewis and John Tagell at the stone cairn on Hamilton Hill
Little Bubbler showing cattle damage. Reeds largely restricted to the spring vent

FOMS Newsletter #19, September 2017

FOMS Newsletter Spring 2017 coverThis newsletter edition features:

  • FOMS’ efforts to repair walking trails at the Peake
  • An introductory trip for members making their first trip under the FOMS banner
  • Some high-tech advances by FOMS using a drone
  • The current situation re proposed fencing at Levi Springs
  • A spring grazing trial at Billa Kalina
  • Complications with the spring burning trial at Finniss Springs
  • Efforts by DEWNR to curtail cattle intrusion into Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park
  • FOMS meeting with the Marla Oodnadatta NRM Group
  • The new Arid Lands NRM Plan

Fencing of Levi Springs still under Discussion

Levi Springs – approx. location

The State Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources has recently completed a three year project, known as Desert Jewels, looking at the management of mound springs and the FOMS has had some involvement. As part of that project, fencing of several springs at Levi was proposed. An initial proposal to fence all of the springs at Levi was not supported by the Arabana Aboriginal Corporation and a revised and reduced fence alignment was marked out on the ground during a visit in 2016 by FOMS and Arabana Elder Uncle Dean Stuart. The Arabana Aboriginal Corporation subsequently endorsed the revised alignment which is shown in red on the image below. The area proposed for fencing is around 10 – 12 ha.

Former lessees S Kidman and Co were fully supportive of the proposal but the on-ground works were not undertaken before the sale of the property to the Williams Cattle Company. In an effort to progress this matter, FOMS members Colin Harris, Bren Lay, Bruce Gotch and Simon Lewis met with Tony and Trevor Williams during the FOMS trip of August 2017.

During this on-site discussion it was clear that the springs were being heavily impacted by cattle. Tony and Trevor agreed that the current situation was in nobody’s best interests. They stressed that any decision about fencing would need to be made by their company and noted that a watering point would still be needed in the vicinity. In this respect, the group inspected the bore nearby, currently used by cattle, but in need of an upgrade. There was also some suggestion that the fencing could be extended to include the main spring in the bottom left of the image below, by following the alignment marked in blue on the image.

The meeting was positive and FOMS is confident of a good outcome. FOMS has sent further information to the Williams Cattle Company and we await their decision.

Proposed fencing of Levi Springs

Horses Complicate Burning Trials

Trial burn, Bopeechee Spring, May 2016

In our last newsletter we reported on a burning trial conducted on three springs on the Finniss Springs property, Bopeechee, Beatrice and a spring described as HBO 004, in May 2016. This trial was undertaken as part of DEWNR’s Desert Jewels project as an initial effort to assess the potential ongoing role of fire in the management of reeds, particularly Phragmites, in mound springs. Prolific growth of Phragmites has occurred at many springs that have been protected from cattle grazing to the apparent detriment of other wetland species. DEWNR and FOMS have been considering options for the active management of this prolific reed growth, with fire and periodic grazing (see also the Billa Kalina article) being two options for consideration.

In July 2016 a FOMS group visited Finniss Springs and noted quite strong regrowth of Phragmites just 7 or 8 weeks after the trial burn. At the time, FOMS carried out some vegetation monitoring, measuring density and height of regrowth.

However, in June 2017 a further FOMS inspection showed that the regrowth of Phragmites is being severely grazed by horses. The photos included here of Spring HBO 004 illustrate the situation. This has significantly complicated the monitoring program. While the horses remain in the area we are not simply monitoring the response of Phragmites to a trial burn but monitoring a combination of regrowth from fire and grazing impacts. Some discussion will be needed about the value of continuing the current vegetation monitoring or the need to adopt a different approach.

Same spring in June 2017. Phragmites now gone from spring vent as a result of grazing by horses
Spring HBO004 in June 2016, about 7 weeks after trial burn. Significant regrowth of Phragmites
Burning Trial Site

Action being taken to address Cattle Grazing in Wabma Kadarbu

Spring at Wabma KadarbuWabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park is best known for Blanche Cup and the Bubbler, the two mound springs with easy visitor access, parking facilities, interpretive information and boardwalks. However, tucked away to the south and north of these springs is an extensive array of springs not readily accessible to the public. In the south of the park are Horse Springs and Buttercup Spring and FOMS inspected these springs during the June 2017 introductory trip described elsewhere in this newsletter.

During this inspection, FOMS members were concerned to note cattle actively grazing on Buttercup Spring. Likewise, at Horse Springs there has been substantial and recent cattle damage (see photo). It is clear that cattle have intruded into the Park from the adjoining Stuart Creek pastoral lease FOMS members noted similar damage during a visit in August 2016.

FOMS has reported the situation to DEWNR and the Department has advised that action is under way to repair boundary fencing in collaboration with the Stuart Creek managers