Limmen Bight & McArthur Rivers Region



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Gulf Water Study

Limmen Bight & McArthur Rivers Region





Photograph: P. Cowan

Photograph: P. Cowan




Front cover:

Waterhole downstream from Jandanku, (Bauhinia Spring)

Isolated waterhole on Tanumbirini Creek

Ronnie Raggett and Lewis Raggett at Wee-ak on the McArthur River.


GULF WATER STUDY

Limmen Bight River at the Nathan River Road crossing.


WATER RESOURCES OF THE LIMMEN BIGHT AND

MACARTHUR RIVERS REGION




REPORT 17/2009D

U. ZAAR

DARWIN NT
© Northern Territory of Australia, 2009

ISBN 978-1-921519-65-9

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS


This project was co-funded through the Australian Government’s Water Smart Australia Program and the Northern Territory Government Department of Natural Resources, Environment the Arts and Sport.

I would like to thank my colleagues who provided help on this project: Peter Jolly (now retired) who instigated this project; Des Yin Foo for his generous support as our team manager; Anthony Knapton, my co-worker on this project who provided technical and field assistance; Steve Tickell and Danuta Karp for their technical advice; Lynton Fritz for his outstanding cartographic skills in drawing up the map; Sean Lawrie, Daniel Low Choy, Ian Mc Masters and Phil O’Brien for their efficient field work and Renee Ramsay for her production of the GIS and collation of the DVD.

I take pleasure in also thanking members of our technical working group; Max Gorringe, manager of Elsey Station, Frank Shadforth, manager of Seven Emu Station and Glenn Wightman – ethnobiologist who all kindly took the time to provide advice at our meetings. All were always ready to help.
I am very much indebted to the local people in the region. There is little recorded surface water data in the region so the information provided by locals has been vital to the project. I thank the station owners and managers; Alec Anderson, Bill Bright, Bill Darcy, David Daniels, Jimmy Mawson, Tim and Judy Mc Farlane, Chris and Christine Shilling, Rhett Walker the Parks and Wildlife rangers; Shaun Evans, Ben Senge, Eddie Webber, Stewart Woerle and from the minerals sector Simon Fell-Smith, Tim Lewis and Bruce Maycock.
Indigenous people with links to the region provided not only excellent field guidance but also a cultural perspective. The memory of some of the older people has been extraordinary. I thank Alec Anderson, Katie Baker, Donald Blitner, Les Hogan, Roy Hammer, Bruce Joy, Stephen Johnston, Harry Lansen, Daphne Mawson, Dulcie Mawson, Wailo Mc Kinnon, Billy Miller, Ronnie Raggett and Stephen Roberts.
I would like to thank Mabunji Aboriginal Resource Association and their chairman Frazer Baker, and the Northern Land Council who provided liaison assistance with indigenous knowledge.
I humbly thank all these people as it has been no less than fascinating to learn about water in the Gulf.

Lynton Fritz Technical working group Field guides, Vanderlin Island


SUMMARY
This report provides details of the groundwater and Dry season surface water resources of the Limmen Bight River Region and the McArthur River Region of the Gulf as depicted on the accompanying two water resource maps. These are two of five regions which make up the mapping area of the Gulf Water Study (Figure 1.1). The study was co-funded by the Australian Government Water Smart Australia Program and the Department of Natural Resources, Environment, the Arts and Sport of the Northern Territory Government.
The purpose of this work is to provide readily accessible, easily understandable and user friendly information products on water resources in the region. The project was undertaken with the dual perspective of western science and indigenous knowledge and both are represented in the products of this study. It is hoped that common understandings will develop between Indigenous people and land managers about water in the region. The key aim is to provide a fundamental data set to guide development of water resources in the region maintaining healthy groundwater and rivers as well as the ecosystems which depend upon them.
Each map region encompasses cattle stations, Aboriginal land and National Park. The town of Borroloola, located in the McArthur River Region, services the two regions. Domestic water supplies are sourced from groundwater, springs, river water and rainwater. The main industries of the regions are cattle grazing, tourism and mining. Cattle are watered by groundwater, river water, natural waterholes and dams.
The groundwater resources of the two map regions have been classified into seven aquifer types:


  • Sedimentary Rocks with intergranular porosity (yields 1.0 – 10 L/s)

  • Fractured and Karstic Rocks – regional scale aquifer (yields 0.5 - 10 L/s)
  • Fractured and Karstic Rocks – local scale aquifers (yields up to 10 L/s)


  • Fractured and Weathered Rocks – carbonate rocks (yields 0.5 – 10 L/s)

  • Fractured and Weathered Rocks – carbonate rocks (yields 0.5 – 5 L/s)

  • Fractured and Weathered Rocks (yields 0.5 – 5 L/s)

  • Fractured and Weathered Rocks with minor groundwater resources (yields 0 - 0.5 L/s)

Few bores exist in the Sedimentary Rock aquifer and water quality can be marginal. It lies on the eastern coast of the McArthur River Region map.


The Fractured and Karstic regional scale aquifers lie in the south-west of each map. The aquifers are situated in Cambrian aged limestone formations, namely the Anthony Lagoon Beds and Gum Ridge Formation. The latter is equivalent to the Tindall Limestone. These regional scale aquifers cover an area from Tennant Creek to Mataranka and provide the key groundwater resource in the western Gulf region. As part of the Gulf Water Study this entire aquifer was modelled. This work was undertaken by A. Knapton (2009) and a report is available. The fractured and karstic local scale aquifers are small in extent in the two map regions and have yet to be tested.
The dominant aquifer type of the regions occurs in fractured and weathered rocks. The better yielding carbonate aquifer is situated within the Karns Dolomite and lies in the eastern McArthur River region. It provides baseflow to the Wearyan River. Bores commonly yield 3 L/s. Other fractured and weathered carbonate aquifers occur in hard old (Proterozoic) rocks which predominantly rely on fracturing for aquifer development. Fractures are targeted for supplies.

Non carbonate fractured and weathered rocks with yields typically between 0.5 – 5 L/s are associated with sandstones. Of particular interest is the Abner Sandstone located in the Borroloola area where yields up to 10 L/s have been achieved, however, the formation has not been extensively drilled elsewhere. It is possible that these high yields are a localised feature.

With the dominant aquifer type in the region being fractured and weathered rocks with local scale aquifers only small spring discharges are observed, generally less than 40L/s. The springs host dependent ecosystems often denoted by lush vegetation pockets. These are refuges for terrestrial and aquatic wildlife.
River flow has been classified on the maps according to the minimum recorded flow at the end of the Dry season during a dry period. There are three categories that describe river flow;


  • River with a minimum flow of between 10 and 100L/s at the end of the Dry season

  • River with permanent waterholes and minimum flows up to 10 L/s at the end of the Dry season

  • River which is dry at the end of the Dry season

Only short river reaches are listed under the first category. They include the upper McArthur River, upper Rosie Creek and other discharge channels from localised springs often associated with faults. Although most of the rivers in the region cease to flow by the end of the Dry season some rivers maintain large pools such as those along the McArthur River and Batten Creek. The largest permanent lake across the two regions is Lake Eames. It is located on Vanderlin Island.

Indigenous knowledge on specific sites has been provided by traditional owners and is documented in this report. Many of the sites are shown on the map. Indigenous people believe that the Spirit Ancestors created their environment as well as a charter that is the Law for existence and through this law all land, water, plants, animals, natural phenomena, people and the Spirit Ancestors (Dreamings) are inextricably connected. It is through these intricate connections that indigenous people relate to water and everything else. Water sites not only have a physical entity and a purpose in the connected environment but also social, emotional, cultural and spiritual significance. Effective management of land and water therefore involves consideration of all these realms. Understanding how indigenous people relate to land and water enables the documented knowledge on waterholes to be put into perspective. Much can be learnt from their holistic view as it engenders responsible land and water management.
Aside from the map and this report other products from the Gulf Water Study include a GIS, posters and photographic and video collection which are all available on a data DVD.
Table of Contents

Gulf Water Study 1

Limmen Bight & McArthur Rivers Region 1

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 1

Table of Contents 5

List of Figures 7

List of Tables 8

List of Plates 9

3. CLIMATE 13

4. CURRENT WATER USAGE 17

5. INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE 19

6. GROUNDWATER 32

6.1 The Water Cycle 32

6.2 Geology 32

6.2.1 Rock Formations 33

6.2.1 Rock Formations 33

6.2.2 Geologic Structure and depositional history 34

6.2.2 Geologic Structure and depositional history 34

6.3 Aquifer Type 35

6.3.1 Flow system description of aquifers 36

6.3.1 Flow system description of aquifers 36

6.3.2 Mapped aquifers / Groundwater Resources 37

6.3.2 Mapped aquifers / Groundwater Resources 37

6.4 Groundwater Quality 47

6.4.1 Water quality measurements 48

6.4.1 Water quality measurements 48

6.4.2 Water Quality and Aquifer Type 49

6.4.2 Water Quality and Aquifer Type 49

6.5 Recharge 52

6.6 Groundwater discharge and dependent ecosystems 54

7. SURFACE WATER 59

7.1 How surface water sites are recorded 61

7.2Gauging stations 62

7.2.1 McArthur River 62

7.2.1 McArthur River 62

7.2.1 Wearyan River 64

7.2.1 Wearyan River 64

7.3 Other surface water sites 65

7.4 Availability of river water 65

7.4.1 Mapping minimum baseflows 65

7.4.1 Mapping minimum baseflows 65

7.4.2 Baseflow Water Quality 67

7.4.2 Baseflow Water Quality 67

7.5 Wet Season Flows 69

8. WATER RESOURCE DATA AND AVAILABILITY 70

9. GLOSSARY 71

10. REFERENCES 75

APPENDIX A: INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE 78

LIMMEN BIGHT RIVER REGION 79

MACARTHUR RIVER REGION 85

APPENDIX B: DEPARTMENTAL WATER RESOURCES REPORTS 110

APPENDIX C: SUMMARY OF BORE INFORMATION 110

MACARTHUR RIVER REGION 119

APPENDIX D: BORE WATER CHEMISTRY 136

LIMMEN BIGHT RIVER REGION 137

MACARTHUR RIVER REGION 141

APPENDIX E: SURFACE WATER SITES 150

LIMMEN BIGHT RIVER REGION 151

MACARTHUR RIVER REGION 156

APPENDIX F: CHEMISTRY OF SURFACE WATER SITES 167

LIMMEN BIGHT RIVER REGION 168

MACARTHUR RIVER REGION 174

APPENDIX G: RAINFALL RECORDER SITES 202

LIMMEN BIGHT RIVER REGION 202

MACARTHUR RIVER REGION 203


Key messages are highlighted in gold throughout the report.


List of Figures


Figure 1.1 Study Regions 10

Figure 2.1 Land use in the Limmen Bight River Region 11

Figure 2.2 Land use in the McArthur River Region 12

Figure 3.1 Average monthly rainfall for McArthur River and Tanumbirini Stations. 13

Figure 3.2 Average annual rainfall for the Northern Territory 14

Figure 5.2 Place names associated with the Spirit Ancestors and their tracks in the Foelsche and Wearyan Rivers area. 22

Figure 5.5 Clan areas in the Borroloola area. (Baker, 1999) 28

Figure 6.1 The Water Cycle 32

Figure 6.3 Flow path of water in a fractured rock aquifer. This is a local system. 37

Figure 6.4 Depth to the top of the Cambrian limestone from ground level on Tanumbirini Station. 40

Figure 6.5 Depth to the water table from ground level on Tanumbirini Station. 41

Figure 6.6 Monitored groundwater levels in bores at Borroloola and rainfall at Bing Bong. 53

Figure 6.7 Recharge to a confined and unconfined aquifer. 54

Figure 6.8 Depression spring in a valley and at an escarpment 55

Figure 6.9 Contact spring 56

Figure 6.10 Fault spring 57

Figure 6.11 Geology map showing faults associated with Wununnahtyala, Warrapirrnatila and Lorella Springs, satellite image showing the same and photo of Lorella Spring. 58

Figure 7.1 Runoff and Baseflow Components of Surface Water 59

Figure 7.2 Discharge hydrograph in the Roper River at Red Rock G9030250 in 1995. 60

Figure 7.3 Effect of Water Table Level on River Flow (Adapted from Fetter, 1994) 60

Figure 7.4 Basins in the study areas. (Excerpt from River Basins map DIPE, 2002) 62

Figure 7.6 Annual rainfall at Calvert Hills and minimum flow at G9080133 65

Figure 7.7 Flow increases in the Calvert River in response to rainfall. 69


List of Tables




Table 4.1 Current water use in the Limmen Bight River map Region. 17

Table 4.2 Current water use in the McArthur River map Region. 18

Table 5.1 Examples of Yanyuwa clan classification (Bradley et al., 2006, p12) 28

Table 6.1 Rock groups, formations and their ages. 34

Table 6.3 Aquifer flow systems (Coram, 2000) 37

Table 6.4 Aquifer categories in the map region represented on the water resource map. 38

Table 6.6 pH and water quality 49

Table 6.7 Water quality in the Cambrian limestone Aquifer 50

Table 6.8 Water quality in the Karns Dolomite aquifer at RN35924 51

Table 6.9 Water quality in fractured and weathered carbonate rocks 51

Table 6.10 Water quality of bores within the Abner and Bukalara Sandstones. 52

Table 7.1 Rivers with permanent flow. 61

Table 7.2 Water quality of baseflow discharging from sandstone aquifers 67

Table 7.3 Water quality of hot springs on Lorella Station. 67

Table 7.4 Water quality of baseflow discharging from carbonate aquifers. 68

Table 7.5 Water quality of hot springs discharging from carbonate aquifers. 68

Table 7.6 Hot springs on Tanumbirini Station 68

Table A1 Indigenous place names and details supplied by Donald Blitner. 79

Table A2 Indigenous place names and details supplied by Barney Ellaga. 80

Table A3 Indigenous place names and details supplied by Roy Hammer. 81

Table A4 Indigenous place names and details supplied by Les Hogan and Bruce Joy. 82

Table A5 Indigenous place names and details supplied by Harry Lansen. 82

Table A6 Indigenous place names and details supplied by Stephen Roberts. 84

Table A7 Indigenous place names and details supplied by Alec Anderson. 87

Table A8 Indigenous place names and details supplied by Roy Hammer. 88

Table A9 Indigenous place names and details supplied by Les Hogan and Bruce Joy. 92

Table A11 Indigenous place names and details supplied by Les Hogan and Jack 99

Table A12 Indigenous place names and details supplied by Daphne Mawson 101

Table A13 Indigenous place names and details supplied by Stephen Johnston 103

Table A14 Indigenous place names and details supplied by Stephen Johnston 105

Table A15 Indigenous place names and details supplied by Ronnie Raggett 108


List of Plates




Plate 4.1 Broadmere Waterhole. Domestic supply to Broadmere Station. 17

Plate 6.1 Typical carbonate rock of the McArthur Group. 43

Plate 6.2 ‘Lost City’ karst topography in Hodgson Sandstone 44

Plate 6.4 Sand dunes on northern Vanderlin Island 47

Plate 6.5 A drop of acid dissolving limestone as shown by the fizz. This is a common field test for carbonate rocks. 48

Plate 6.6 Ursula Zaar measuring the EC of Rosie Creek with an EC meter. 48

Plate 6.7 & 6.8 Rainforest pocket at the base of an escarpment on McArthur River Station. 56

Plate 6.9 Vegetation lined spring discharges from the Abner Range, McArthur River Station 57

Plate 6.10 Swamp situated next to sand dunes near Wilundu on Vanderlin Island. 57

Plate 6.11, 6.12, 6.13 Hot Water Springs. At Lorella 47 °C, Tanumbirini > 60 °C, and McArthur River Station 50 °C. 58

Plate 7.1, 7.2, 7.3 Gauging station G9070132 in 1981, again in flood and G9070142. 63

Plate 7.4, 7.5, 7.6 Gauging Station on the Wearyan River, Gauge boards and the Wollogorang Road Crossing just downstream from the gauging station. 64

Plate 7.7 Upper McArthur River 66

Plate 7.8 Rosie Creek 66

Plate 7.9 Tributary of Branch Creek 66

Plate 7.10 Tufa deposit on the McArthur River. 69

Plate 8.1, 8.2, 8.3 Scientific data collection: 70

Donald Blitner 79

Roy Hammer 80



1. INTRODUCTION
This report provides details of the groundwater and Dry season surface water resources of the Limmen and McArthur Rivers regions of the Gulf of Carpentaria as depicted on the accompanying water resource maps. They represent two of the five regions which make up the mapping area of the Gulf Water Study (Figure 1.1). The study was co-funded by the Australian Government Water Smart Australia Programme and the Department of Natural Resources, Environment, the Arts and Sport of the Northern Territory Government.

Figure 1.1 Study Regions


Ancillary to this report and map are posters, GIS and a photographic and video collection. All products from the study are available on DVD.
The purpose of this work is to provide readily accessible, easily understandable and user friendly information products on water resources in the region. The project was undertaken with the dual perspective of western science and indigenous knowledge and both are represented in the products of this study. It has been targeted to inform all stakeholders from station managers, traditional owners and land developers through to water allocators and government bureaucrats. The key aim is to provide a fundamental data set to guide development of water resources in the region maintaining healthy groundwater and rivers.

The water resources map is an interpretation of the regions geology, topography, bore data, stream flows and vegetation patterns. Where data was lacking investigations were carried out including geophysical surveys, water quality sampling and stream gauging. The contribution from local people, in particular their knowledge of the waterways has been vital to this mapping exercise, especially in areas where access was difficult and scientific information scant.


2. LOCATION
Limmen Bight River Region

Three cattle stations operate in this region; Tanumbirini, Broadmere and Lorella. Lorella Station also operates a wilderness park where a key tourist attraction is the hot springs. Aboriginal Land includes the Alawa Aboriginal Land Trust and the Jandanku Aboriginal Land Trust. The Limmen National Park is situated on pastoral land encompassing Nathan River and Billengarrah Stations. The park was recently established in order to protect the natural and cultural values of the Gulf region and to provide access to tourism sites for visitors travelling the Nathan River Road which is part of the tourist route called the Savannah Way. Some visitor facilities are provided in the park with more planned in the future. The park is known for its ‘lost cities’ where erosion of sandstone escarpments has formed numerous large sandstone spires and rounded domes. (www.nt.gov.au/nteta/parks).


Access to the region is by the Carpentaria Highway which runs from the Stuart Highway to Borroloola and the unsealed Nathan River Road (Highway 1) which runs from the Carpentaria Highway to the north passing through the Limmen National Park. There are no services provided in the area apart from the campgrounds with basic facilities.
The major river in the area is the Limmen Bight River and its tributary the Cox River. West thereof is the Arnold River and in the north-east is Rosie Creek situated on Lorella Springs Station

Figure 2.1 Land use in the Limmen Bight River Region

McArthur River Region

Borroloola is the largest population centre in the area and provides services to the region. A roadhouse is also located at Cape Crawford and services are also provided at Batten Point at the King Ash Bay Fishing Club.

The major land use in the area is cattle grazing. There is one freehold block, Leila Creek Station and four pastoral leases, the largest of which is McArthur River Station. The other leases are Mallapunyah, Manangoora and Spring Creek. The latter two are indigenous owned and operated. Aboriginal lands include the Narwinbi Aboriginal Land Trust which surrounds Borroloola, the Wurralibi Aboriginal Land Trust which encompasses two large islands and the Mambaliya Rrumburriya Wuyaliya Aboriginal Land Trust in the south-west. This latter land trust is sub leased for cattle grazing.
Two mines operate in the region; the McArthur River mine which mines lead and zinc and the Merlin Diamond Mine. To extend the life of the McArthur River mine it has converted to open pit operations. This has required the rechannelling of a section of McArthur River and Barney Creek.
Fishing is a key tourist attraction in the region. The King Ash Bay Fishing Club is situated at Batten Point. The Barranyi National Park is located on North Island and the Caranbirini Conservation Reserve is located central in the map sheet.
The sealed Carpentaria Highway provides access from the Stuart Highway to Borroloola. Major unsealed roads branch off from this highway; the Nathan River Road which heads north to the Roper region, the Tablelands Highway which heads south from Cape Crawford to the Barkly Highway and the Wollogorang Road which leads from Borroloola south-east to Queensland.

Figure 2.2 Land use in the McArthur River Region


3. CLIMATE

The map regions lie in the Wet/Dry tropics. With 6 months of negligible rain in the Dry season most streams cease to flow unless they are groundwater fed. Annual evaporation exceeds rainfall. The last 9 years has been the wettest for the period of interpolated record, that is 118 years.

The map regions have a tropical savanna climate with a marked Wet season from November to April and Dry season from May to October (Figure 3.1). Most of the area has an average annual rainfall of between 600 – 800 mm whereas the north-eastern coastal strip receives between 800 – 1000 mm. (Figure 3.2). Average annual rainfall decreases from the coast inland. Annual rainfall has varied widely over the last century.
The long term record is represented in Figure 3.3 for three sites in the Limmen Bight and McArthur Rivers region and consists of interpolated data obtained from SILO Data Drill (www.longpaddock.qld.gov.au/silo). Note how annual rainfall is generally higher at the coast, at Borroloola, and lowest inland, at Tanumbirini. A listing of rainfall recorder sites is provided in Appendix G. Figure 3.3 clearly shows the large fluctuations in rainfall and how the latter 9 years have been exceptionally wet with an average rainfall of 933 mm at McArthur River Station (DR014715) compared with the long term average of 684mm.

Figure 3.1 Average monthly rainfall for McArthur River and Tanumbirini Stations.

(From Bureau of Meteorology web site: www.bom.gov.au/climate/averages)

Figure 3.2 Average annual rainfall for the Northern Territory

(From BOM website: www.bom.gov.au/jsp/ncc/climate_averages/rainfall)




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