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National Water Account 2019

Sydney: Geographic information

  • The region is located on the New South Wales coast, and includes Sydney, Australia's largest city.
  • The Hawkesbury-Nepean River is the most significant river system in the region.
  • Surface water is the main water source, mainly for urban and agricultural uses, which are supplied via an extensive storage network.

Map showing the following summary information for the Sydney region. Water use: 3.3% of Australia's water use. Land use: 55% of the region used for conservation of the natural environment. Ecosystems: 24 nationally important wetlands including Ramsar listed Towra Point Reserve. Water resources: most water is sourced from surface water.

For further geographic information about the region scroll down this page or click on the links below:


General description

Area: 30,800 km²
Population: 5.07 million (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016)


Map showing the key water features of the Sydney region. The Sydney region boundary is defined by three catchments:  Shoalhaven River, located in the south; Wollongong Coast catchments, located in the central east; Sydney Coast–Georges River, located in the northeast; as well as most of the Hawkesbury–Nepean River catchment, located in the north and northwest.
Figure R1 Contextual map of the Sydney region


  • The Sydney region is located on the coast of New South Wales and is home to 65% of New South Wales' total population.
  • The region is mainly defined by three catchments: Shoalhaven River, Sydney Coast–Georges River, and Wollongong Coast catchments, as well as most of the Hawkesbury–Nepean River catchment.


Land use

Map showing the distribution and land use types within the Sydney region. Major towns/cities are marked on the map for Lithgow (northwest), Sydney (east), Wollongong (central east, south of Sydney), Shoalhaven Heads and Nowra (southeast, south of Wollongong), Moss vale (central, southwest of Wollongong) and Goulburn (southwest). The main land use in the Sydney region is conservation and natural environments. This occurs in the north, central and southeast of the region. The second largest land use is grazing. This occurs in the southwest. Urban is the other major land use. This occurs in the northeast part of the region, where the city of Sydney is located. Other land use types shown are forestry, dryland agriculture, irrigated agriculture, mining, water, and other intensive uses.
Figure R2 Land use in the Sydney region


  • Urban centres make up 8% of the region's total area. The majority of the region's population resides in the Sydney metropolitan area.
  • The dominant land use activities outside of the urban centres are conservation and natural environments, which makes up 55% of the region area, and grazing, which makes up 25% of the region.


Significant aquatic ecosystems

Map showing the locations of Ramsar wetland, cultural places and 23 nationally important wetlands in the Sydney region. Major towns/cities are marked on the map for Lithgow (northwest), Sydney (east), Wollongong (central east, south of Sydney), Shoalhaven Heads and Nowra (southeast, south of Wollongong), Moss vale (central, southwest of Wollongong) and Goulburn (southwest). The Ramsar wetland, Towra Point Nature Reserve, is in the northeast, south of Sydney. The culturally important Kangaroo River is in the southeast.  Northern coastal wetlands include: Newington Wetlands, Bicentennial Park, Botany Wetlands, Eve St. Marsh Armcliffe, Voyager Point and Liverpool Military Training Area. O'Hares Creek Catchment wetland is along the central coast. Southern coastal wetlands include: Coomaditchy Lagoon, Killalea Lagoon, Coomondery Swamp, Shoalhaven/Crookhaven estuary. Southern inland wetlands include: Wingecarribee Swamp, Budderoo National Park Health Swamps, Lowbidgee Floodplain and Long Swamp, Central inland wetlands include: Boyd Plateau Bogs and Thirtmere Lakes, Northern inland wetlands include: Longneck lagoon, Pitt Town Lagoon, Blue Mountains Sedge Swamps.
Figure R3 Significant wetlands and cultural places in the Sydney region



Significant Aboriginal cultural places and practices

  • The Kangaroo River, recognised as an area of cultural significance as well as a source of food for Aboriginal communities, is an important area for the Nowra and Illawarra local Aboriginal land councils. Native title rights to water in the Kangaroo River Management Zone are provided for under the Water Sharing Plan for Greater Metropolitan Region Unregulated River Water Sources.
  • The Aboriginal Water Initiative program aims to improve Aboriginal involvement and representation in water planning and management within New South Wales; this program is implemented by the NSW Department of Industry.


Water resources

  • Surface water is the main water source in the region; flows from several main rivers are highly regulated by numerous dams and weirs.
  • The surface water storage capacity per capita in the region is large by world standards, due to the region's irregular interannual rainfall-runoff patterns.
  • Other water sources include groundwater; desalinated water from the Kurnell desalination plant to the Sydney metropolitan area; recycled water supplied by Sydney Water Corporation and several local councils; and inter-basin transfers to the region from the Fish River Water Supply Scheme.


Surface water


Map showing the locations of key flow gauging stations along the main rivers in the Sydney region. Major towns/cities are marked on the map for Lithgow (northwest), Sydney (east), Wollongong (central east, south of Sydney), Shoalhaven Heads and Nowra (southeast, south of Wollongong), Moss vale (central, southwest of Wollongong) and Goulburn (southwest).  Coxs River at Island Hill, station ID 212045, is located south of Lithgow, upstream of the Nepean River. Shoalhaven River at Warri, station ID 215002, is in the extreme south of the region.
Figure R4 Streamflow gauging stations along the main rivers within the Sydney region


  • There are three main river systems within the Sydney region: the Hawkesbury–Nepean River, the Shoalhaven River, and the Illawarra and metropolitan Sydney catchments.
  • The gauging stations used to represent the general seasonal flow patterns of rivers in the region are shown in Figure R4.


Figure R5 Mean monthly flows along the Coxs River (part of the Hawkesbury–Nepean River system) and Shoalhaven River and mean monthly rainfall for the Sydney region


  • These rivers typically have perennial flow, reflecting the relatively uniform rainfall pattern throughout the year.



Map showing the location of major storages in the Sydney region. Thompsons Creek, Wallace, Lyell and Blue Mountains are in the northwest of the region and have capacities of 27,500 ML, 4,004 ML, 34,192 ML, and 2,890 ML, respectively. Warragamba storage is in the centre of the region and has a capacity of 2,031,000 ML. Pejar and Sooley are in the southwest and have capacities of 9,000 ML and 6,250 ML, respectively. The remaining  12 storages are in the centre and the southeast. Their capacities are: Woronora 71,790 ML; Cataract 97,370 ML; Nepean 68,100 ML; Cordeaux 93,640 ML; Medway 2,046 ML; Avon 214,360 ML; Fitzroy Falls 22,920 ML; Bundanoon 1,170 ML; Tallowa 90,000 ML; Danjera 7,660 ML; and Bamarang 3,800 ML.

Figure R6 Major storages in the Sydney region; capacity of each storage is also shown


  • There is an extensive storage and weir network for capturing streamflows in the Sydney region.
  • Warragamba, the region's largest storage, makes up 70% of the storage capacity of the region.
  • Water from the Shoalhaven catchment can be diverted to the Hawkesbury–Nepean catchment through the Lake Yarrunga (Tallowa), Bendeela Pondage and Fitzroy Falls storages.


Intervalley transfers

  • The Fish River Water Supply Scheme delivers water from outside the region (Oberon Dam and Duckmaloi Weir) to major customers within the region, including Lithgow City Council, EnergyAustralia, and WaterNSW.
  • There are also intervalley water transfers within the region between the Shoalhaven, Hawkesbury–Nepean, and Sydney coastal catchments. As these transfers occur within the region, they are not quantified individually in this account, but form part of the overall surface water store balance.


Desalinated water

  • The Kurnell Desalination Plant can supply 250 ML/day of desalinated water; it is brought into operation when WaterNSW's total operating storage capacity falls below 60%.
  • The plant commenced operation in January 2010, and operated continuously until June 2012 as part of initial commissioning and testing.
  • In January 2019 the plant restarted operation after being offline since 2012.


Water systems

Urban water system

  • The major water utility in the region is Sydney Water, which provides potable water to more than five million people across Sydney, the Blue Mountains and Illawarra.
  • Sydney Water operates nine water filtration plants and supplies over 1,500 ML/day of potable water in the region through a network of 243 reservoirs, 151 pumping stations and over 21,951 km of water pipes. Approximately 80% of this water is sourced from Warragamba Reservoir.
  • Other organisations that supply urban water in the region are Shoalhaven Water, Goulburn Mulwaree Council, Lithgow City Council and Wingecarribee Shire Council.


Wastewater and recycled water system

  • Sydney Water operates the main wastewater network in the region, consisting of 16 wastewater treatment plants, 14 water recycling plants, 677 wastewater pumping stations, over 25,000 km of wastewater pipes and 577 km of recycled water pipes. Most treated wastewater is discharged to waterways, estuaries, or the ocean. Recycled water is distributed for urban, agricultural and other uses.
  • Shoalhaven City Council operates four wastewater treatment plants within the region; Wingecarribee Shire Council, Lithgow City Council and Goulburn Mulwaree Council also operate plants within the region. Treated wastewater is mostly discharged to waterways, and the small quantities of recycled water produced are mainly used for plant operations, on-site use and agriculture.