Water in Australia

Water in Australia provides a country wide picture of water availability and use in a particular financial year. It addresses:

Water in Australia builds on the former biennial Australian Water Resource Assessment and the annual National Water Account summary and improves these by being an annual assessment that covers the whole of Australia.

Read the full Water in Australia 2013–14 report (5.2MB).

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

For more recent information, the Monthly Water Update provides a regular snapshot of rainfall and streamflow for the previous month.

For further information, please contact us.


Physical water resource conditions

Australia has highly variable rainfall from region to region and year to year. Rainfall affects streamflow and groundwater replenishment, which in turn affect the water resources available for human use. The high rainfall variability poses challenges for water resource management. Long-term changes in our climate further exacerbate the challenges.

Rainfall patterns across Australia have changed significantly since 1950. Rainfall has increased in Australia’s north and northwest, mostly associated with increases in daily rainfall intensity and frequency during the wet season.

In contrast, rainfall has declined along the west coast and most of eastern Australia. This is of great concern because the major population centres and most agricultural activity occur in these areas where, consequently, use of water resources is highest.

In 2013–14, rainfall patterns in many places followed the decadal changes, with reduced rainfall in the west and east, and higher rainfall in the north and in much of Western Australia (Figure S1). Streamflow in these areas responded accordingly. In southern Queensland and northern New South Wales, a severe drought, which started in 2012, continued in 2013–14, with streamflow being very much below average in drought-impacted areas.

Figure S1. Annual rainfall, runoff and streamflow conditions, 2013–14

Figure S1. Annual rainfall, runoff and streamflow conditions, 2013–14

In 2013–14, most bores had average groundwater levels, except in South Australia and Queensland, where more than one-third of all bores had an above-average level. Below-average groundwater levels were present in 5–20 per cent of bores in each State and Territory.


Water available for use

Australia has extensive water supplies, and their use is managed by various institutional arrangements. Water availability is being increased by using recycled and desalinated water. At the same time, greater protection is being afforded to the environment through the purchase of entitlements from water users and investments in water-saving infrastructure.

Table S1 indicates the amounts of water available nationally in various categories. Overlap between categories means that these amounts cannot be added together for a total figure. Figure S2 illustrates the distribution of available water in storage at 30 June 2014.

Availability category Gigalitres
Storages at 30 June 2014 (63% of capacity) 51 600
Surface water entitlements 23 000
Groundwater entitlements 7 000
Marine desalinisation plant capacity 630
Recycling plant capacity 940

Table S1. Water available for use across Australia at 30 June 2014

Figure S2. Status of Australia’s major water storages at 30 June 2014

Figure S2. Status of Australia’s major water storages at 30 June 2014

Environmental water holders in the Murray–Darling Basin held 3192 gigalitres (GL) of surface water entitlements at the end of 2013–14 (increasing from 3160 GL at the end of 2012–13). Of the total allocated environmental water available in 2013–14, 68 per cent was delivered for environmental purposes and 27 per cent was carried over to 2014–15.


Water use

Australia supports its population, agriculture and industry by making water available for various types of uses. The estimated total water use across Australia was 23 500 GL in 2013–14. The top two water uses were irrigation (57 per cent of total use) and urban consumption (17 per cent of total use). Water used nationally is summarised in Figure S3 for the major use categories.

Figure S3. Estimated total water use in Australia, 2013–14

Figure S3. Estimated total water use in Australia, 2013–14

The main irrigation use is in the Murray–Darling Basin and was just over 9500 GL in 2013–14. The estimated total surface water use for irrigation in the Murray–Darling Basin decreased from about 11 000 GL in 2012–13 to about 8400 GL in 2013–14—a drop of 24 per cent. Groundwater use for irrigation increased by 18 per cent to just over 1100 GL because of drier conditions and limited surface water allocation announcements, particularly in the northern Murray–Darling Basin.

Outside the Basin, around 3900 GL was used for irrigation, mainly in the Queensland and Victorian coastal regions, the coastal regions surrounding Perth and Adelaide, northeastern Tasmania, and the Ord irrigation scheme in northern Australia.

Entitlement trade increased in 2013–14 to about 2400 GL, which can be attributed partly to entitlements being transferred to the Commonwealth for the environment and partly to declining water storage levels that prompt buyers into the market to secure more water. Allocation trade in 2013–14 was around 5500 GL.

Total water use in 2013–14 in the major cities shows no significant changes in recent years, with Sydney, Melbourne and South East Queensland all recording slight increases in water use since 2011–12. Sydney, Melbourne and South East Queensland use mainly surface water; Perth and Adelaide are using increasing amounts of desalinated water.

Urban residential use in 2013–14 was 185 kL per property, up 3 per cent from 2012–13. However, use per property has not increased significantly from the levels at the end of the Millennium Drought.


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