University of Tasmania

File(s) not publicly available

Seasonal variation in groundwater levels and quality under intensively drained and grazed pastures in the Montagu catchment, NW Tasmania

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-16, 22:14 authored by Holz, GK
Water quality is a significant environmental issue in the Montagu River and its estuary in north-west Tasmania. Groundwater is the major contributor to baseflow for about half of the year. 'Hump and hollow' surface drainage is increasingly being used to reduce the effects of seasonal waterlogging on pasture production. However, little is known about the effects of 'hump and hollow' structures on watertable levels or intensive grazing on groundwater quality in the catchment. The objectives of this study were to evaluate the impacts of 'hump and hollow' drainage by comparing watertable levels in drained and undrained paddocks and to quantify the effects of intensive grazing on groundwater quality underlying pastures. In December 2004, 10 wells and 2 piezometers were installed at depths of 2-6 m at seven sites along two transects across the dairying area of Togari. Water levels were monitored and water samples collected every 2 months were analysed for pH, electrical conductivity, total dissolved solids, ammonium, nitrate, nitrite, total nitrogen, dissolved reactive phosphorous, Ca, Mg, K and Na. Thermotolerant coliforms and Enterococcus were measured when watertable levels were low and high. Watertable levels were within 0.5 m of ground level for over 3 months on undrained sites. 'Hump and hollow' surface drainage increased the depth of the unsaturated zone under the 'humps' but did not lower the watertable. Watertable levels on the crests of the 'hump and hollow' structures rose and fell daily in response to periods of rainfall and drought. Gradients of the groundwater surface, albeit very low, indicated the potential for groundwater flow from the base of the hills to the Montagu River in the centre of the valley. The median nitrate concentration of all samples was 0.018 mg NO3-N L-1 but one site had nitrate concentrations in excess of that recommended for potable water for a period of 1-2 months. Nitrate concentrations varied seasonally by 20-1000 times with an early winter pulse of nitrate evident both in the groundwater and in the Montagu River. In contrast, the median ammonium concentration in the groundwater was 0.274 mg NH4-N L-1 which was well above the trigger value for lowland streams. The median concentration of dissolved reactive phosphorus was 0.008 mg P L-1 which was slightly higher than the trigger value. There was some evidence of low levels of faecal bacterial contamination of the shallow aquifers. Transects across the dairying area did not clearly demonstrate increasing concentrations of analytes due to intensive grazing though lower levels of nutrients were generally found at sites adjacent to undisturbed native forest. Variation in water quality parameters along the transects suggested water quality at a site was mostly related to local conditions and hazards. © 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Dairy Australia Limited


Publication title

Agricultural Water Management








Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA)


Elsevier BV

Place of publication

The Netherlands

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Dairy cattle

Usage metrics

    University Of Tasmania


    Ref. manager