Groundwater bore drilling demand spikes as urbanites try to keep lawns green during drought
16th December 2019
Bore drilling companies say they are seeing a rising demand for groundwater bores in urban areas to keep gardens and lawns green during drought conditions.
- Tightening water restrictions are driving a surge in urban groundwater bores in regional and metropolitan areas
- Bores installed for domestic and stock use are not required to be metered and there are no extraction limits
- The NSW Government says there is “unprecedented demand” for groundwater access, with applications doubling since 2017
During his six decades in the bore drilling game, Max Jones said he sees a rush of business whenever the grip of drought tightens.
His company has been inundated with enquiries, particularly from urban households eager to keep their lawns and gardens green, he said.
“People are desperate for water,” Mr Jones said.
“The surface streams are not reliable anymore and the rainfall is not reliable anymore.”
There are also financial payoffs for landowners who invest in groundwater access for their properties, according to Mr Jones.
“Put it on a permanent water supply that you control and it’ll add five times the value of the cost of putting the water onto the property,” he said.
Mr Jones said his crews have been busy drilling for landowners and councils throughout regional cities and towns including Orange, Bathurst, Dubbo, Gilgandra and Coonabarabran.
“I think the trend that you see here locally is pretty much right throughout New South Wales,” he said.
Metropolitan demand ramps up
It is not just rural residents looking for groundwater.
“We’ve been getting a lot of enquiries in the Eastern Suburbs, the North Shore … around the Harbour,” said Mike Mercuri, a company director of Matrix Drilling, which has offices in Sydney and Melbourne.
“In the past it’s normally been farmers looking to keep their dams stocked up,” Mr Mercuri said.
“I think now it’s people concerned about their expensive gardens.
“In terms of water bores this is probably the highest amount [of demand] that we’ve seen in both Victoria and New South Wales for a long time.”
He said customer enquiries have ramped up as residents in Sydney, the Blue Mountains and the Illawarra move to level 2 water restrictions.
Customers could expect to pay anywhere between $5,000 and $10,000, depending on drilling depth and the type of pump installed by a dedicated specialist, Mr Mercuri said.
He recommended that people to talk with their neighbours who already have bores to ask about the quality and quantity of water being drawn before investing in one of their own.
Keeping lawns and gardens green
Mark McGregor lives in the regional city of Orange, New South Wales, where dam levels are at 25 per cent and level 5 water restrictions have been in place since October.
Mr McGregor’s bright green, turf lawn stands out like an oasis at a time when most of the grass around his suburb is crispy dry.
Before building his house, he had the foresight to apply for and install a bore in his backyard, which was done by his father-in-law who owns a drilling company.
With the heat of summer encroaching, he said the investment has paid for itself.
“It makes life a lot easier, especially at this time of the year,” Mr McGregor said.
Residents on the council-supplied reticulated water supply are restricted to watering their gardens for one hour, once a week, and the watering of lawns is not permitted.
But Mr McGregor’s bore allows him to keep watering his lawn every morning.
“I think if you’ve invested in a bore you’re quite within your rights to water your lawn,” he said.
Accountability and environmental concerns
In NSW under the Water Management Act 2000, bores installed for domestic and stock use do not require an access licence, and there is no specification as to how much water can be extracted.
But a water supply work approval must be obtained before drilling can begin.
The Environmentally Concerned Citizens of Orange group president, Neil Jones, said he would like to see more restrictions on the use of bores in urban areas especially at a time of severe water restrictions.
“It begs the question as to whether or not these urban bores can continue to be used without some form of monitoring or metering,” Mr Jones said.
That is a sentiment shared by Associate Professor Martin Andersen, from the Water Research Laboratory of the University of New South Wales.
“I think [metering] is something we need to consider in the future, that there should be some accountability in terms of how much water people use,” Dr Andersen said.
He said there are environmental considerations to take into account if more people tap into groundwater supplies.
“A single urban user might not take much water, but if everybody has these bores in the backyard there’s a cumulative effect,” he said.
“The take might add up to something that might have consequences either on lowering water levels.
“Lowered water levels might also cause subsidence.”
He pointed to overseas examples including Mexico City, where land levels are sinking due to groundwater abstraction.
“But we’re talking quite large quantities of water for that to happen,” Dr Andersen said.
‘Unprecedented demand’ for groundwater
The NSW Government said it has recently expanded its team of hydrogeologists to assess applications in what it called an “unprecedented demand for new groundwater access in regional New South Wales.”
Figures from WaterNSW show the annual number of groundwater applications have doubled since 2017.
It received 4,143 groundwater access applications in the 11 months to the end of November 2019 — almost double the 2,138 applications in 2017.
As rigs continue drilling in suburban yards and paddocks, Max Jones said he does not foresee any shortage of water beneath the ground’s surface anytime soon, so long as it is used sensibly.
But Dr Andersen said groundwater renewability can vary across locations and he is concerned about the continual use of bores even after drought conditions ease.
He said communities should consider groundwater as an emergency supply and its use should be moderated to allow the recharging of aquifers when other options are readily available.
“If we use it in the right way, it’ll drought-proof us when conditions are dry,” Dr Andersen said.
“And that’s a very valuable way of using a groundwater resource.”