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On 4 October 2020 it was announced that the moratorium on drilling new domestic bores in Adelaide was lifted. This decision allows new domestic bores to be drilled in the central region of the Central Adelaide Prescribed Wells Area (CAPWA) – extending from Outer Harbor to Marino and bordering the Western Mount Lofty Ranges, from Houghton to Cherry Gardens, following a successful application for a well construction permit.

Anyone wishing to drill a new domestic well will need to apply for a well construction permit and should read the frequently asked questions listed below.

The state government may introduce new controls in the future if trends indicate that these groundwater resources are adversely affected or shows signs of potential decline.

  1. Why is the Adelaide Groundwater Moratorium on new domestic wells being lifted?
  2. Is there groundwater contamination where I live and therefore I shouldn’t use bore water?
  3. The EPA prohibited the taking of groundwater in my area; does lifting the moratorium mean it’s now safe to do so?
  4. The water quality testing from my new well indicated that there is groundwater contamination, what do I do?
  5. I want to drill a new bore to water my garden and other non-drinking water purposes, how do I go about this?
  6. How do I arrange for the water from my well to be tested to make sure it’s safe?
  7. What are the water quality testing requirements for new stock and domestic bores in Central Adelaide Prescribed Wells Area?
  8. What do water quality testing results tell us – is the water safe to use?
  9. My property is located within the Central Adelaide Prescribed Wells Area, can I drill a bore for new commercial/industrial or irrigation purposes?
  10. I don’t want to pay an application fee to just have my application automatically refused due to being in a GPA or EPA Assessment Area. How can I avoid this? Can I get a refund?
  11. How long will it take for my application to be assessed and how long does my permit last for?
  12. My application to drill a new domestic well in the Central Adelaide PWA was successful! Now what?
  13. I already know the groundwater is safe where I live, do I still need to get the water tested as mandated by the permit?
  14. I was given a permit to drill a well by DEW, but now the EPA is advising against using the groundwater, am I able to get compensation? 

1. Why is the Adelaide Groundwater Moratorium on new domestic wells being lifted?

The Adelaide Groundwater Moratorium was issued in response to drought conditions, following a significant increase in applications for new domestic wells in the Adelaide area. There was concern at the time that the increased access to groundwater may detrimentally affect water levels and consequently salinity levels, in the shallow Quaternary aquifers.

Since the moratorium was imposed there has been ongoing monitoring of the groundwater resource, which has shown that shallow groundwater levels in the region have recovered in above-average rainfall years since the drought.

Therefore, lifting the moratorium on drilling new domestic bores presents minimal risk to the groundwater levels at this time. The shallow aquifers of the Adelaide metropolitan area will continue to be monitored and trends assessed by DEW.

2. Is there groundwater contamination where I live and therefore I shouldn’t use bore water?

Bore owners should contact the EPA’s Site Contamination Branch to find out more about potential groundwater contamination before using groundwater. Additionally, information is available on a number of EPA websites and on the EPA Public Register that can give you an initial idea of whether you would be at potential risk, if you used groundwater from the shallow aquifers in your area:

In some instances suspected site contamination investigations are not yet finalised and therefore it is best to contact the EPA on (08) 8204 2004 to discuss the potential groundwater contamination risk in your local area.

Where there is no specific ban in place through a Groundwater Prohibition Area being declared, the groundwater user accepts all risks and responsibility when they choose to use groundwater from their bore.

3. The EPA prohibited the taking of groundwater in my area; does lifting the moratorium mean it’s now safe to do so?

No. The Groundwater Prohibition Areas and the direction to not use groundwater for any purposes within these areas is still in effect.

If your property is located within a Groundwater Prohibition Area or in an area otherwise known or suspected as having contaminated groundwater (e.g. in an EPA Assessment Area), it is still considered unsafe to use groundwater for domestic purposes. For this reason, any applications for a Well Construction Permit will be refused in these areas in the interest of public health and safety.

While Well Construction Permits may be granted within the rest of the Adelaide metropolitan area, it will be a condition of your permit to arrange and pay for a water sample to be collected and tested, prior to use. Information about the laboratories that provide these services is outlined under item 7 below. 

Fitness for purpose will be determined by the landowner based on appropriate Australian and International water quality guidelines and advice from SA Health. For assistance to interpret these results from a public health perspective, help can be provided by the Water Quality Unit of SA Health on (08) 8226 7100 or via email waterquality@sa.gov.au.

Anyone considering drilling a well in the Adelaide area should consider the latest information about Groundwater Prohibition Areas and EPA Assessment Areas that can be found on the EPA’s website.

Bore owners should also see the information provided by SA Health’s Water Quality Unit about the risks of using bore water for domestic purposes and guidance on testing the water quality.

4. The water quality testing from my new well indicated that there is groundwater contamination, what do I do?

If the results indicate that there is site contamination, it is important that you immediately discontinue use.  Preventing extraction of contaminated groundwater is necessary to protect human health and also to prevent the spread of contamination. This can be caused by drawing water towards a property if the groundwater is being extracted from a bore.

Please do not use it for any purpose. If you have not already discussed your groundwater sampling results with the EPA, you will also need to notify the EPA on (08) 8204 2004 or email EPASiteContam@sa.gov.au.

As the owner or occupier of the site or residential property, you must notify the EPA in writing as soon as reasonably practicable after becoming aware of the existence of contamination. This is a legal requirement under the Environment Protection Act 1993.

The EPA is required to place this notification in the EPA Public Register and will result in a flag on the property’s certification of title. The liable party found to be responsible for the contamination (or the EPA) also advises the affected community if a risk to public health is confirmed.

5. I want to drill a new bore to water my garden and other non-drinking water purposes, how do I go about this?

If you’re located within the Central Adelaide Prescribed Wells Area and wish to access water for stock or domestic purposes (watering an area no greater than 0.4 ha) you do not need a water licence to take groundwater, only a Well Construction Permit.

A well construction permit gives you the approval to drill a well into the ground, subject to the conditions on the permit. For more information about well construction permits please see Drilling wells. A water licence (or water account) gives you approval to take water from a prescribed water resource for any purpose other than a stock or domestic purpose.

Go to the well permit application form on the Statewide Forms DEW page. There you will find the Well Construction Permit form and more information for you to consider before proceeding

Please note that SA Health advises that water from shallow aquifers in the metropolitan area of Adelaide is not generally recommended as a suitable source of drinking water. Groundwater may be deemed safe for drinking, cooking, filling swimming pools or watering edible plants only after it has been fully tested by a specialist laboratory.

Depending on where you want to drill the well and into which aquifer, there may be groundwater contamination that has been identified and recorded by the EPA (e.g. located in a Groundwater Prohibition Area or EPA Assessment Area). In this instance your application would be refused in the interest of public health and safety, even if you’re not intending to use it for drinking water purposes.

While Well Construction Permits may be granted in other areas within the Central Adelaide Region, it will be a condition of your permit to arrange and pay for a water sample to be collected and tested by an accredited laboratory, prior to using the water, to ensure the water is safe and fit for purpose. Fitness for purpose will be determined by the landowner based on appropriate Australian and international water quality guidelines and advice from the SA Health. For assistance to interpret these results from a public health perspective, help can be provided by the Water Quality Unit of SA Health on (08) 8226 7100 or via email to waterquality@sa.gov.au.

Importantly, if your bore water is found to be contaminated this will result in a section 83A notification under the Environment Protection Act 1993. This information is held on the EPA public register and will result in a flag on the property’s certification of title. This also means you will not be allowed to use the water from your new bore.

Anyone considering drilling a well in the Adelaide area should consider the latest information about Groundwater Prohibition Areas and EPA Assessment Areas that can be found on the EPA’s website, which will indicate whether it is safe to use groundwater at your location.

6. How do I arrange for the water from my well to be tested to make sure it’s safe?

The responsibility rests with the land/bore owner to have their water sampled and tested by an accredited laboratory service to ensure it is fit for purpose. This should be repeated on a regular basis; every two years is the recommended frequency. For further information please see testing requirements for private bores on the SA Health website, or see item 7, which includes the list of water quality tests.

Of particular note, all testing of the water samples from a private and commercial or community-based bore should be conducted by trained personnel and the analysis done by a National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) accredited analytical laboratory. Information about the laboratories that provide these services is outlined under item 7.

7. What are the water quality testing requirements for new stock and domestic bores in Central Adelaide Prescribed Wells Area?

As mandated on new permits for stock and domestic bores within Central Adelaide Prescribed Wells Area, the water quality must be tested for potential microbiological and chemical contaminants, prior to use to ensure that it is fit for purpose.

It is strongly recommended that testing occur at least every 2 years. If at any stage there are changes in appearance or odour, further water quality testing is advised.

It is the well owner's/permit holder's responsibility to investigate the costs associated with water testing, when assessing costs keep in mind that it is strongly recommended that testing is repeated every 2 years.

The cost of having your water sampled and tested by a NATA-accredited laboratory (which is a mandated condition of a well permit where the water is to be used for domestic purposes) can be quite high, approximately $600, at a minimum. It’s strongly recommended that before drilling a well that you contact a suitably qualified laboratory to determine the costs associated with having a water sample collected and analysed. Based on current knowledge, there are two laboratories in South Australia that undertake both sampling and testing, in accordance with the water quality testing condition on new well permits for this area. These are:

 Water Management Australia (WMA) Australian Water Quality Centre (AWQC)
  • Water sample collection
  • Microbiological testing
  • Chemical testing
  • Water sample collection
  • Microbiological testing
  • Chemical testing

Testing must include:

  • E. coli (as an indicator of faecal contamination)
  • Fluoride
  • Nitrate
  • Arsenic
  • Total dissolved solids (where not already known, for example your drillers report often includes this information)
  • Antimony
  • Barium
  • Beryllium
  • Boron
  • Cadmium
  • Chromium
  • Copper
  • Lead
  • Manganese
  • Mercury
  • Molybdenum
  • Nickel
  • Selenium
  • Silver
  • Uranium

As advised by SA Health, for bores in the metropolitan area testing should also include analysis of the full suite of volatile organic compounds (including trichloroethene also known as trichloroethylene or TCE), which is commonly found in parts of Adelaide. Please see the boundary of the Green Adelaide Landscape Region for an indication of what is considered metropolitan Adelaide.

The presence of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) is not widespread. However, testing will be required in areas identified as at risk. 

If you have any questions about this please contact the Site Contamination Branch of the EPA on (08) 8204 9934.

8. What do water quality testing results tell us – is the water safe to use?

As the well permit holder, it is your responsibility to determine whether the water is ‘fit’ for your intended use. The Australian and International guidelines listed below will help you make this assessment.

SA Health are also able to assist with the interpretation of test results from a public health perspective.  The SA Health Water Quality Unit can be contacted via (08) 8226 7100 or email waterquality@sa.gov.au.

Australian and International guidelines:

If the results indicate that the water is safe to use, if ‘fit for purpose’ then you can start using the water.

Please note water quality test results must be submitted to the following email address EPASiteContam@sa.gov.au. The provision of test results to the EPA is a condition on the well permit, adherence with this condition will be monitored and suitable compliance action taken where necessary.

9. My property is located within the Central Adelaide Prescribed Wells Area, can I drill a bore for new commercial/industrial or irrigation purposes?

No. A water licence is required to use water for any purpose other than for household domestic use or the watering of stock. Find out more about the Central Adelaide Prescribed Wells Area.

Water licences will not be issued with new wells until such time as a water allocation plan is in place. A draft plan is currently under development. Find out more about this process.

10. I don’t want to pay an application fee to just have my application automatically refused due to being in a GPA or EPA Assessment Area. How can I avoid this? Can I get a refund?

Before making an application for a Well Construction Permit, it is recommended that you check if the bore would be located in (or intersecting) either a Groundwater Prohibition Area (GPA) or EPA Assessment Area, as either scenario would result in automatic refusal because the use of groundwater for domestic purposes is currently not permitted in these areas. GPAs and EPA Assessment Areas are displayed and discussed in detail on the EPA’s website.

If you wish to check if your application would be automatically refused as it is in a GPA or EPA Assessment Area (thereby avoiding unnecessary payment of the application fee), refer to the EPA’s websites or you may alternatively contact the department’s Mount Gambier office on (08) 8735 1134.

Please note that in most circumstances where a permit application is for land outside of a GPA or EPA Assessment Area, additional assessment of the application by the EPA will be necessary to determine if the location is known or suspected as having contaminated groundwater. If this is the case, please note your permit application will be refused. This assessment will occur upon lodgement of the permit application and these applications may take up to 40 business days to process.

The fee is payable for all well permit applications submitted to enable the necessary administrative purposes once the form is lodged; therefore, this is non-refundable.

11. How long will it take for my application to be assessed and how long does my permit last for?

The assessment process can be quite technical, depending on your location and proposed use. The standard assessment timeframe is 15 business days, unless referral of the application is required. If additional assessment of your application is required, for example by the Environment Protection Authority, the standard processing time is 40 business days. Also, if a permit is requested for the construction of a well on Crown Land where Native Title may exist, processing may take more than 60 days.

A permit to construct (drill) a well expires after 12 months (i.e. the well must be drilled within that 12 months). After this time a new application will need to be submitted and paid for.

12. My application to drill a new domestic well in the Central Adelaide PWA was successful! Now what?

Choose a licenced driller and adhere to the conditions of your permit, while also having regard or the notes and advice in the communications material sent to you.

Of particular note is the condition on your permit requiring you to arrange and pay for a water sample to be collected and tested by an accredited laboratory, prior to using the water, to ensure the water is safe and fit for purpose (see items 7 and 8 above).

13. I already know the groundwater is safe where I live, do I still need to get the water tested as mandated by the permit?

Yes. The bore owner must undertake all testing as mandated by their permit.

Aquifers may contain chemicals and micro-organisms that are potentially harmful. Some of these chemicals are naturally occurring (such as those present in soils and rocks) while others are a result of contamination. Water quality can be quite different from bore to bore, even if they are located in close proximity. For this reason, testing from a newly drilled well is required prior to use.

As advised by SA Health’s website about bore water, it is not always possible to tell if bore water is contaminated. Bore water quality may change over time. Therefore, after the initial analysis the bore water should be checked every 2 years and monitored by the owner for any undesirable changes in water quality. Where groundwater contamination becomes known in a nearby area, shallow groundwater may need to be tested more frequently. Find out more.

Changes in appearance or odour can, but not always, indicate contamination. If this occurs, owners are advised to check the integrity of the bore and to test water quality.  Some chemicals, such as solvents, can be odourless and colourless in groundwater.

Regularly have the water tested to ensure the health of those using the water and be aware that should contamination be discovered in your area, depending on which aquifer your well is accessing, you may be advised to stop using groundwater (EPA Assessment Area phase) or be legally prohibited from doing so (if a Groundwater Prohibition Area is declared).

14. I was given a permit to drill a well by DEW, but now the EPA is advising against using the groundwater, am I able to get compensation?

No. Compensation is not provided to landholders where the EPA determines that groundwater is unsuitable for use after permits are issued. The bore owner accepts all risks and responsibility associated with obtaining a permit and drilling the bore.

New domestic well owners should be aware that like all industrialised cities, Adelaide has groundwater contamination as a direct result of past practices of manufacturing, industry, agriculture and burial of waste products. Investigations are ongoing and new sites of contamination are progressively being discovered.

A permit to drill a well is valid for 12 months and is based on the knowledge available to the Minister’s delegate at that point in time. Unfortunately, if site contamination is discovered at a later date and the bore water is unable to be used due to site contamination that presents a potential harm to human health, this is at the risk of the bore owner.

 If the water tests indicate that there is contamination then the well cannot be used for any purpose and the EPA must be notified in writing as soon as practicable – EpaSiteContam@sa.gov.au.

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