Turning groundwater into wine

An investigation into groundwater underneath South Australia’s McLaren Vale wine region will help to ensure the local hydrologic cycle and world-famous wines keep flowing freely, and contribute to better groundwater management across Australia. About a third of Australia’s water comes from underground sources.


In September, Margaret Shanafield will begin investigating the groundwater in Willunga Basin—responsible for irrigating South Australia’s iconic McLaren Vale vineyards.

Margaret Shanafield is tracking McLaren Vale’s groundwater. Credit: National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training; McLaren Vale
Margaret Shanafield is tracking McLaren Vale’s groundwater. Credit: National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training; McLaren Vale

Groundwater in the Willunga region has shown a gradual long-term decline and many wine producers already rely on a privately funded reclaimed water scheme to satisfy their requirements.

Willunga is one of six long-term monitoring sites set up in 2009, by the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy and the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training, to reveal the secrets of Australia’s subterranean water supplies.

The site has a wealth of existing data and the facilities Margaret needs to develop tools to help water managers in the basin and experts in her field to preserve naturally occurring water sources.

She’s also trying to uncover new information about the relationship between groundwater and surface water to enable more accurate predictions of water availability in the future.

“Until 2009, Australia didn’t have sufficient infrastructure to fully investigate how those reserves are restocked,” says Margaret, who is an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) fellow.

Groundwater flows at a much slower rate than surface water, but Margaret believes the two are inextricably linked.

“We talk about groundwater and surface water as though they’re separate things because we look at them on different timescales. I’m hoping to change that,” Margaret explains.

For more information: National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training, Flinders University, Margaret Shanafield, margaret.shanafield@flinders.edu.au, www.groundwater.com.au

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