Australia's population of 18.3 million people uses about 24,000 GL (`000 ML) of water each year for agricultural, pastoral, industrial, commercial and urban purposes. Of the 24,000 GL of water used, about 19,100 GL or 80% is sourced from surface water and 5,000 GL or 20% from groundwater sources. The gross value of irrigated agriculture is estimated at $7254 million (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2000).
Australia has one of the highest per capita consumption of water in the world at 1.31 ML/person/year, most of it used in agriculture (18,000 GL - 75%).
In a typical Australian household each person used around 350 L/day in 1996/97, with gardening responsible for up to half, while flushing toilets used about a quarter of this amount. People from Asia, Africa and Latin America use 50-100 L/day; people from the USA use 400-500L/day.
Urban water use in several of the State capitals (while variable) declined over the 1990s. Industrial use is not large and is falling as industries become more water efficient-in some cases achieved indirectly because of energy efficiency gains (AATSE/IAE 1999).
Please note: The tables set out below detailing Level 1 and Level 2 water use categories. The sum of the Level 2 water use volumes will not necessarily equal the total Level 1 water use volumes. This is primarily due to lack of more detailed water use data. However, where Level 2 use = Level 1 use then blank cells in the table does not indicate water use unaccounted for in these categories.
Comparison between the 1985 and 1996 'snapshot' assessments is difficult. Factors include the time between assessments (more than 15 years); seasonality and variability of climate; significant potential for changes in land use; and fluctuations in domestic and global market demands. However it has been estimated that water use has increased by 65% since the early 1980s - increasing from 14,600 GL to 24,000 GL.
Extract from the Australian Bureau of Statistics "Water Account for Australia"(2000).
Water Use, Climate and the Audit Baseline Year - 1996/97
The baseline year for the Audit is the 1996/97 agricultural year starting on the 1st April and ending on 31st of March. For water use the data has been compiled for the period 1 July 1996 to 30 Junr 1997 (water calendar year). When it was necessary to collect information for more than one year, the data collected covers that year or, was appropriately adjusted to provide a best estimate for that year.
For water use data States and Territories were requested to provide a 5 yearly average value based on the 1996/97 year. Use figures were adjusted in areas where, due to climatic conditions, the water use was not considered 'average'.
Climate in 1996/97
During 1996 there was a transition from the weak large-scale climate controls to a strong El Nino condition after March 1997. This resulted in a drying over a large part of southern and eastern Australia. From July until September 1996 Victoria had unusually cold and wet weather. The remainder of the southern half of Australia was also wet for three months. Significant areas in south-west Queensland, western and central New South Wales, South Australia, western Victoria, and southern Western Australia had rainfall totals within the highest 10% on record.
During the summer of 1996-97, there was a very active monsoonal season in the tropical zones in western Australia and the Northern Territory. However, this finished abruptly and early, as El Nino developed rapidly in autumn 1997. From October 1996 very dry conditions prevailed over most of Victoria, the grain belts of South Australia and north-east Tasmania. Areas of southern Victoria through to south-east South Australia had the driest October to June period on record.
May 1997 brought rain to southern Australia and average to above average rain to parts of Queensland. There was some relief to farmers from the dry and hot conditions over southern Australia in early 1997. In parts of southern Victoria and south-east South Australia the driest October to June period was reported." (ABS Water Account, 2000)
Climate in 1983/84 (Water Review 85)
Water use in any particular year is affected by weather conditions. For much of Australia, the period, July 1983 to June 1984, was equivalent to a normal year in which water use was about average. In south-east Australia, however, abnormal weather patterns were experienced. In general, rainfall totals throughout Victoria were high during the first half of the year but were lower than average in the second half. These weather conditions, along with a continuing sensitivity to water use following the 1982/83 drought, had a marked effect on water usage. Although the 1982/83 drought that affected most of Victoria was broken by above-average rains early in the year, water restrictions in many urban areas were not lifted until much later in the year. Urban water use was therefore less than average, due both to the heavy rains and to the continuance of water restrictions.
The above-average rains in the first half of 1983-84 greatly reduced irrigation demands, and by mid-season virtually unrestricted supplies of water were made available to farmers (for example, 200% of water rights in the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District). The drier conditions in the latter half of the year somewhat compensated for this, but total usage for the year was generally far less than average.
Rural usage was also less than average, again due to the early wet conditions and sensitivity about excessive water use following the 1982-83 drought. (DPIE, 1987).
In not all cases does the change in water use volume from 1985 to 1996 reflect factors that effect consumption patterns and volumes such as population growth, industry or land-use change or operational improvements. The observed difference may be due to differences in the approaches used to estimate water use within each river basin.
Estimates of groundwater use for the Great Artesian Basin are not included in the total use reported for the surface water river basins in NSW.
A direct comparison between data reported for 1985 and 1996 cannot be made for the Murray Riverina Basin due to a change in the boundary definition of the Basin. For this current assessment the Murray Riverina Basin has been defined as the regulated stretch of the Murray River extending from Lake Hume to the South Australian border. In 1985 the Murray Riverina Basin is defined as an area on the New South Wales side of the Murray River, extending from Hume Dam to a point just upstream of the confluence with the Murrumbidgee River.
|Region||Use in 1983-84 (GL/yr)||Use in 1996-97 (GL/yr)||% Change|
|Australian Capital Territory||Total||no data||73||no data|
|Surface||no data||68||no data|
|Ground||no data||5||no data|
|New South Wales||Total||6,319||10,009||58|
Note: Water use in 1996/97 represents the average water use determined under the 1996 levels of water resource development. The water use is therefore independent of weather conditions.
34 of Australia's 325 surface water basins are currently over-utilised and 2 are over-allocated in terms of meeting sustainable flow regimes. Currently 31 of Australia's 325 basins, have formal allocations for the environment. The benefits of these allocations to the environment will be assessed over time as the progress is monitored against environmental targets and thresholds.
Note: Water Resource Allocation for each Surface Water Management Area represents the volume of that areas surface water resources allocated for use within that area, and for use in other SWMAs.
|Region||Surface water use in 1996 (GL/yr)||Surface water annual allocation in 1996 (GL/yr)|
Use : Allocation (%)
|Australian Capital Territory||71||68||96|
|New South Wales||9,825||9,000||92|
Note: The Victorian figures do not include the diversion and allocation from the Mitta Mitta River SWMA to NSW (814 GL/yr). The Tasmanian figures do not include the diversion and allocation to hydro-electricity power schemes.
83 of Australia's 538 groundwater management units are over-allocated in terms of their nominated sustainable yield, while 57 are over-used. Currently 3 (in Victoria) of Australia's 538 groundwater management units, had formal allocations for the environment reported.
Australia has 25,780 GL of groundwater suitable for potable, stock and domestic use, and irrigated agriculture that can be extracted sustainably each year of which 2,489 GL is used.
|Region||Sustainable yield of groundwater management units with salinity less than 5000 (mg/L)||Allocation for those GMUs (GL/yr)||Use for those GMUs (GL/yr)|
|South Australia||1,121||no data||no data|
|Australian Capital Territory||103||7||5|
|Queensland||2,618||no data||no data|
|New South Wales||6,298||no data||no data|
|Tasmania||2,531||no data||no data|
|Western Australia||5,092||no data||no data|
On balance, and not surprisingly, water use and allocation are comparable at a national scale. More detail analysis of water use to allocation is presented at State and individual basin and groundwater management unit scales.
Table: Current allocation volume (GL/yr)
|Region||Irrigation||Rural||Urban / Industrial||In Situ|
|South Australia||Surface||558||3||180||no data|
|Australian Capital Territory||Surface||5||2||65||no data|
|Northern Territory||Surface||7||4||43||no data|
|New South Wales||Surface||8,507||176||1,142||no data|
|Western Australia||Surface||481||8||368||no data|
Note: For Victoria, the total allocation volume does not include the volume of water diverted from the Mitta Mitta River SWMA to NSW (814 GL/yr). The Tasmanian in-situ allocation includes the total volume of water allocated for hydro-electricity power generation.
Further introductory information about water resources is available for each State and Territory:
- Australian Capital Territory
- New South Wales
- Northern Territory
- South Australia
- Western Australia
View the Australian Water Resources Assessment 2000 report
- Link to data available for download on the:
- Surface Water Management Areas
- Groundwater management units and provinces - ARC/INFO export
- Link to the Map Maker to make a map using this information.
Links to an another web site
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