Understanding the past to plan for the future

Information in our latest report, Water in Australia 2014–15, puts us in a better place than ever to understand the past, evaluate how we are tracking and apply this knowledge to plan our future water needs.

Dry conditions, declining reserves
Faced with near-El Niño conditions, daily maximum temperatures reached new record highs in many parts of the country through 2014–15.

Nationally, annual rainfall was ten per cent below the long-term average, with dry conditions prevailing over vast areas of the east and south. However, some areas had ample rainfall. In fact, large areas in the central north and along the New South Wales coast received 100–400 mm above the annual average.

The high temperatures and generally low rainfall affected streamflow, with few locations recording above-average flows. This in turn affected water stores. Nationally, surface water stores for agriculture and urban use fell from 73 per cent of capacity to 64 per cent over the year.

Streamflow summary by State for all stations with suitable data

Groundwater level data showed an increased number of bores with declining trends in upper and middle aquifers, although this varied around the country. However, the Perth Basin showed increasing levels in the middle aquifer, indicating less water being extracted. Trends in the lower aquifers were largely unchanged.

Continuing trade and declining use

Australia’s water market continued to facilitate buying and selling water to move between various urban, agricultural and environmental uses. Entitlement trade volumes dropped nationally during 2014–15, but remained higher than the wet years from 2010–11 to 2012–13. Allocation trading volumes in the southern Murray–Darling Basin were maintained at similar high levels to 2013–14.

Bulk extractions for non-environmental use from rivers, dams, high-yielding aquifers, and recycling and desalination plants across Australia were estimated at 16 700 GL in 2014–15—four per cent lower than 2013–14. Within that total, water for agricultural use was estimated at 12 600 GL—about six per cent less than 2013–14.

Total bulk water extractions, by use category, 2014–15

Surface water continued as Australia’s primary water source because of its high accessibility and lower extraction cost. However, groundwater extraction increased in some areas to supplement supplies.

Major cities relied on surface water in 2014–15, except Perth and Adelaide where supplies were supplemented by groundwater, desalinated water and, in Adelaide only, transfers from outside the storage catchments.

Water in Australia is complemented by:

  • Regional Water Information provides information down to river region level on the status of water resources.
  • Monthly Water Update provides a snapshot of rainfall and streamflow for the previous month relative to average conditions.

Check out Water in Australia 2014–15