Modelling seawater intrusion in the Burdekin Delta Irrigation Area, North Queensland, Australia

K. Narayan, C. Schleeberger, Keith Bristow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Citations (Scopus)


The Burdekin Delta is a major irrigation area situated in the dry tropics of North Queensland. It is unique in that (i) it overlies shallow groundwater systems that serve as a major water supply for the irrigation of sugarcane, and (ii) it is adjacent to the world heritage listed Great Barrier Reef. Water management practices include large recharge pits and surface spreading of water to assist with replenishment of the groundwater. This has been useful in maintaining groundwater levels to help control seawater intrusion. This technique, however, can be costly and ineffective in unconfined aquifer systems, which are subjected to large amounts of groundwater pumping for irrigation. There are more than 1800 production bores currently used for irrigation in the Burdekin Delta and the large volumes of water extracted have at times lowered the regional water tables and made it difficult to control seawater intrusion.In this paper we describe the use of a variable density flow and solute transport model, SUTRA, to define the current and potential extent of seawater intrusion in the Burdekin Delta under various pumping and recharge conditions. A 2D vertical cross-section model, which accounts for groundwater pumping and recharge, was developed for the area. The Burdekin Delta aquifer consists mainly of sand and clay lenses with granitic bedrock. The model domain uses vertical cross-sections along the direction of groundwater flow. The initial conditions used in the model are based on land use prior to agricultural development when the seawater wedge was in its assumed natural state. Results of this study demonstrate the effects of variations in pumping and net recharge rates on the dynamics of seawater intrusion. Simulations have been carried out for a range of recharge, pumping rates and hydraulic conductivity values. Modelling results show that seawater intrusion is far more sensitive to pumping rates and recharge than to aquifer properties such as hydraulicconductivity. Analysis also shows that the effect of tidal fluctuations on groundwater levels is limited to areas very close to the coast. Tidal influences on saltwater intrusion therefore can be neglected when compared with the effects due to groundwater pumping. The impacts of various management options on groundwater quality are also discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)217-228
Number of pages12
JournalAgricultural Water Management
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2007

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