Water in Australia

Water in Australia 2018–19 draws on a range of Bureau information to describe the characteristics of Australia's water resources availability and use for the period 1 July 2018 to 30 June 2019. Key messages for this year were:

Read the full Water in Australia 2018–19 report.

Detailed information for eleven nationally significant water management regions is provided in the National Water Account.

You can also access data used in the report through Regional Water Information, and you can download high resolution images.

Monthly Water Update provides a regular snapshot of rainfall, streamflow, stream salinity and storage volumes for the previous month.

For further information, please contact us.

 



Dry conditions across most of Australia

  • Australia's total annual rainfall in 2018–19 was 351 mm, the lowest in almost 50 years.
  • Below–average annual rainfall over much of Australia led to an intensification of drought conditions across many parts of southeastern Australia, particularly the northern parts of the Murray–Darling Basin.
  • Northwestern Australia was also dry, with a delayed monsoon onset contributing to a below-average wet season.
  • Annual rainfall was high across northern Queensland due to an intense monsoon low that impacted the region in late January to early February 2019.
  • Streamflow in most rivers across southeastern Australia was lower than average; many rivers recorded their lowest annual flows on record, particularly across northern New South Wales.
  • Several rivers in northern Queensland recorded their highest annual flows on record. Heavy rainfall in early 2019 produced extensive flooding in Townsville, major flooding in the Burdekin River and high flows into Kati Thanda–Lake Eyre.
  • Groundwater levels across much of Australia were also lower than average. Most of the aquifer bores had stable or declining trends in water level.
Rainfall was below-average over much of Australia and some areas in the north west and northern parts of the Murray–Darling Basin experienced their lowest rainfall on record. Large areas of above-average rainfall occurred across central and northern Queensland.
            
            For more details, visit the Regional Water Information website at http://www.bom.gov.au/water/rwi/#ra_dc/001/2019

Annual rainfall during 2018–19 compared with historical records (1911–2019)

Map of Australia showing relative streamflow conditions for 2018–19. Monitoring sites are mainly in the east, north and southwest.

            Lower than average flows were dominant over much of Australia; most of the streamflow gauges recorded lower than average annual flows. More than one quarter of all sites across New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and South Australia recorded their lowest annual streamflows on record. Higher than average flows were dominant in northern Queensland. Lower than average flows dominated in rivers across the northern parts of the Northern Territory and Western Australia. 
            
            For more details, visit the Regional Water Information website at http://www.bom.gov.au/water/rwi/#sf_dc/001/2019

Streamflows during 2018–19 compared with historical records (1975–2019)

 


 

Decline in storage volume in parts of southeastern Australia

  • Total accessible surface water storage for Australia at 30 June 2019 was 23 002 GL or 46 per cent full, 17 percentage points less than the same time last year.
  • Dry conditions across southeastern Australia meant storage volumes in some of the major storage systems across the Murray–Darling Basin were less than 20 per cent full and much lower than the previous year, particularly in the northern part of the basin.
  • End of year storages in South East Queensland and Sydney were the lowest in more than 10 years, and for Canberra and Melbourne, the lowest since 2010.
  • Most of the rural systems in northern Queensland had storage levels above 80 per cent full, reflecting the heavy rainfall and flooding in January–March 2019.
Map of Australia showing the status of rural storage systems on 30 June 2019, which are colour coded into ten categories of volume as a proportion of capacity.

                Storage volumes declined in almost all the rural supply systems within the Murray–Darling Basin. In the northern part of the Murray–Darling Basin, accessible storage volumes in several rural supply systems were less than 10 per cent of capacity by the end of 2018–19. In contrast, storage volumes of the rural supply systems across northern Queensland were above 80 per cent of capacity at the end of 2018–19.

Percentage full at 30 June 2019 for rural storage systems

Map of Australia showing the status of urban storage systems on 30 June 2019, which are colour coded into ten categories of volume as a proportion of capacity. The large storages systems are along the east coast and near Perth.

                About three quarters of the urban systems were less than 70 per cent full, of which a quarter were less than 50 per cent full. Storage volumes of the urban supply systems across northern and central Queensland were more than 80 per cent of capacity at the end of 2018–19.

Percentage full at 30 June 2019 for urban storage systems

 


 

Low surface water use

  • Total water taken for consumptive use in 2018–19 was 15 100 GL, 10 per cent lower than the previous year.
  • Surface water was the primary water source, particularly for agriculture, due to its easy accessibility and low abstraction cost.
  • Total water taken for agriculture decreased by 14 per cent from 2017–18, largely due to dry conditions and lower water availability across the Murray–Darling Basin.
  • The portion of total water sourced from groundwater increased from the previous year due to the low surface water allocations for agriculture.
  • Twenty per cent of total water taken was provided for urban water supply. More information on Australia's urban systems is available in the Bureau's National Performance Report 2018–19.
Doughnut charts of Australia's water abstractions by use category and source for 2018–19.

                Agriculture accounted for 70 per cent (10 500 GL) of water use, followed by urban use at 20 per cent (3050 GL), and industrial use at 10 per cent (1550 GL). 
                
                Surface water made up 81 per cent of total water sourced and groundwater portion was 17 per cent. Desalinated water and inter-regional transfers make up the remaining two per cent of the total.

Water taken by use category and source in 2018–19

 

  • The dry conditions and low water availability resulted in a 24 per cent decrease in the volume of water allocations traded compared to 2017–18 but a tripling of average allocation prices due to strong demand for the limited available water. More information on Water Markets across Australia is available in the Bureau's Australian Water Markets Report 2018–19.

 


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