Investigation into the Cause of Iron-Related Clogging of Groundwater Bores Used for Viticulture in the Limestone Coast, South Australia

Birte Moser, Meruyert Beknazarova, Harriet Whiley, Thilini Keerthirathne, Nikki Harrington, Kerry De Garis, Ilka Wallis

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Iron-related clogging of boreholes, pumps and dripper lines is a significant and costly problem for irrigators worldwide. The primary cause of iron-related clogging is still debated. Previous studies have described complex interactions between biological clogging and inorganic iron/manganese oxide precipitation. This case study examined groundwater bores used for viticulture irrigation in the Limestone Coast region, a highly productive wine growing area in the SE of South Australia. Iron clogging of bore screens, pumps and dripper systems has been a persistent problem in the region and the issue is perceived to be growing, with irrigators suggesting the widespread introduction of iron-related bacteria (IRB) through drilling equipment to be the root cause of the problem. Analysis of the groundwater microbiology and inorganic chemistry found no apparent correlation between the presence of IRB and the clogging status of wells. In fact, IRB proved to be widespread throughout the limestone aquifer. However, a clear correlation could be found between clogging affected bores and the redox potential of the groundwater with the most severely affected bores strongly oversaturated in respect to iron oxide minerals. Elevated dissolved concentrations of Fe(II) thereby tended to be found in deeper bores, which also were generally more recently drilled. Following decades of less than average rainfall, a tendency to deepen bores in response to widespread declines in water levels has been documented for the SE of South Australia. The gradually widening clogging problem in the region is postulated to be related to the changes in climate in the region, with irrigators increasingly driven to rely on deeper, anoxic iron-rich groundwater resources.

Original languageEnglish
Article number683
Number of pages14
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2021


  • Inorganic iron clogging
  • Iron-clogging
  • Iron-related bacteria
  • Microbiological iron clogging


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