4610.0 - Water Account, Australia, 2011–12 Quality Declaration 
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 13/11/2013   
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1 The ABS Water Account Australia (WAA) is one of the environmental-economic accounts produced by the ABS based on the System of Environmental-Economic Accounts (SEEA). It consists of supply and use tables (collectively referred to as flow tables) for both physical and monetary volumes.

2 The WAA integrates data from different sources into a consolidated information set making it possible to link physical data on water to economic data, such as those in Australia's National Accounts.


3 The WAA was developed using the SEEA and the SEEA-Water. SEEA was first published by the United Nations in 1993 and was elevated to an international statistical standard in 2012. Environmental accounts extend the boundaries of the System of National Accounts (SNA) framework to include environmental resources, which occur outside the economic production and asset boundaries measured by the SNA.


4 Water supply and use tables provide a framework to link core components of the National Accounts to physical information. Physical data are presented in supply and use tables while some linkages to economic data are also made.


5 The physical water supply and use tables present aggregates of all available physical data (megalitres) in terms of the supply and use of water within the Australian economy for the financial year 2011-12. The tables illustrate the economic use of water and include: self-extracted, distributed, and regulated discharge (including in-stream use) and reuse.


6 The WAA presents information on the supply and use of water in the entire Australian economy in both physical and monetary terms.

7 The WAA includes the entire geographical area of Australia.

8 The scope of WAA is fresh water only. The use of saline water (including water from estuaries) for power generation and other industrial uses, although measurable and reported, is not included in the supply and use tables (with the exception of sea water used for desalination).


9 Coverage for both supply and use tables includes the following:

  • individuals and companies that directly extract water from surface water and groundwater sources for their own use (e.g. domestic, industrial, agricultural or other uses);
  • households, government and businesses that use water supplied by water providers for domestic, industrial, agricultural or other uses;
  • water providers that extract water from surface water, groundwater and sea water for desalination, and supply it to customers for use (e.g. domestic, industrial, or other use). The majority of water providers are categorised in the Water supply, sewerage and drainage services industry (ANZSIC 281) but the Mining, Manufacturing, and Electricity and gas supply industries also supply a small amount of water; and
  • water providers that provide reuse water to their customers; other large organisations who treat water and make it available for subsequent reuse; other large organisations who discharge water directly to the environment (e.g. power stations, mines); and major in-stream water users, for example aquaculture and hydro-electricity generation, where this information is available.

10 Items not covered by the supply and use tables include:
  • the volume of rainwater used by agricultural crops/pastures that are directly rain fed;
  • discharges to the environment resulting from the run-off of irrigation water;
  • the reuse/recycling of water on-farm or on-site (i.e. within homes or businesses);
  • household water consumption from rainwater tanks (for households connected to mains supply);
  • non-point/diffuse discharges; and
  • the impact of storm water infiltration into the sewerage reticulation system.
Water consumption and use

11 Calculating water use by industries is complex and involves a number of data sources and modelling. Water use can include self-extracted water, distributed water, or reuse water and sometimes a combination of all three sources are used. Calculating water use estimates for an industry or business is made more complicated when water is also supplied to other users, or when water is used in-stream (e.g. for cooling or hydro-power). As such simply adding self-extracted water, distributed water, and reuse water to derive a figure for total water use can be misleading.

12 In the WAA, volumes of water used and supplied by each industry have been balanced to derive 'water consumption'. This figure takes into account the different characteristics of water supply and use of industries and is a way of standardising water use, allowing for comparisons between industries. As such the following accounting identities have been used:
  • Total water use is equal to the sum of Distributed water use, Self-extracted water use and Reuse water use;
  • Water consumption is equal to the sum of Distributed water use, Self-extracted water use and Reuse water use less Water supplied to other users and less In-stream use. The use of Distributed water by the environment (Environmental Flows - see paragraphs 30-32), is not included in total water consumption.

13 For most industries, water use and water consumption are the same as most industries do not have any in-stream use or supply water to other users. However, water consumption and use will vary considerably for some industries, specifically the Water supply, sewerage and drainage services industry, Electricity and gas supply industry and Mining industry, where in-stream water use and water supply volumes are significant.

Reuse water

14 There are a variety of water sources that may be supplied as reuse water, including waste water (from sewerage systems), drainage water, storm water or other water providers (i.e. a 'bulk' reuse water supply). Sewerage systems collect and treat waste water which may be treated to primary, secondary or tertiary levels. Storm water may also be collected using infrastructure separate to sewerage systems and, depending upon its intended use, may or may not be treated before being supplied as reuse water. Drainage water is also collected in regional collection drains managed by irrigation/rural water providers. This water may be supplied as reuse water to customers or discharged to the environment. This process is analogous to urban reuse systems, however the water is typically treated in urban systems before it is supplied.

Water discharges

15 The water discharged from the economy to the environment may be regulated or unregulated. Regulated discharge refers to water discharged after use where that discharge does not match the natural flow regime of the receiving water body. For example, the waste water discharged by sewerage service providers is a regulated discharge. The water discharged by the Electricity and gas supply industry after use in hydro-electric power generation is also regulated discharge.

16 The water discharged by households and other industries to sewerage or drainage systems, however, is not a regulated discharge as the water is not discharged directly to the environment. This does, however, become a regulated discharge, after it has been treated by the Sewerage industry and released back to the environment. Discharges from non-point sources, such as those from the Agriculture industry (e.g. run-off from irrigation), are not included in this publication and are represented in the supply and use tables as "not available".

17 Regulated discharges in the physical supply and use tables include Environmental Flows (see paragraphs 30-32).

Data Sources

18 Data for this release are sourced from a range of ABS surveys as well as State, Territory and Local Government agencies, water authorities and industry organisations. The main sources are listed below.

19 ABS surveys:
  • 2011-12 Water Supply and Sewerage Services Survey (WSSS)
  • 2011-12 Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS)
  • 2011-12 Energy, Water and Environment Survey (EWES)
  • Data collected from the 2008-09 Electricity Generators Survey (EGS) was also used to assist in modelling water use for 2011-12.

20 State and Territory government agencies and major businesses (including major state/territory water corporations):
  • The 2011-12 NSW Water Supply and Sewerage Benchmarking Report (NSW Office of Water).
  • Queensland Statewide Water Information Management (SWIM) under arrangements with the Queensland Water Directorate (QWD).

21 Surveys conducted by other government agencies, industry associations, and annual reports of water providers:
  • National Water Commission (NWC) and Water Services Association Australia (WSAA) 2011-12 National Performance Report - Urban Water Utilities.
  • National Water Commission (NWC) National Performance Report 2011-12: Rural Water Service Providers.
  • Annual/environmental reports for 2011-12 from major water providers and businesses.
Methods for Calculating Water Supply and Use

22 These notes are intended as a general guide to the method of calculating estimates of water supply and use. For more detail on the methods please contact the Director, Environmental Accounts Section, Australian Bureau of Statistics.

23 A complete list of water providers in 2011-12 was compiled using the ABS Business Register (ABSBR) supplemented by additional information supplied by State and Territory regulatory departments, industry bodies, and other water data providers. All water providers identified were surveyed in the ABS 2011-12 WSSS.

24 Water providers provided information on:
  • Volume of water extracted from the environment and/or the volume of water received from other water providers (this information was used to reconcile total supplies and to avoid double counting of water volumes).
  • Volume of water supplied to particular industries (e.g. Agriculture, Mining and Manufacturing) and for household use. This information was reconciled with water use as reported by water users. It also enabled the calculation of coefficients (e.g. ML/employee) for industries for which there was little or no data on water use.
  • The amount of water used by the water supply organisation (including mains flushing and water used on parks and gardens operated by councils that supplied water).
  • Volume of water lost from the supply system (including customer meter errors and system water losses).
  • Volume of water discharged by location.
  • Volume of reuse water supplied to particular industries (e.g. Agriculture, Mining and Manufacturing) and for household use. Water reuse volumes were not imputed where water providers did not provide reuse water volumes.
  • Distributed water supplied to households and the number of connections served by water supply and sewerage services. Where information was not available for distributed water supplied to households, neighbouring or matched Local Government Area (LGA) coefficients based on average megalitre use per connection were used.
  • The amount of water released for environmental flows. This only includes those environmental flows released in accordance with a specific plan prepared in conjunction and/or approved by the appropriate environmental (resource) regulator (see paragraphs 30-32).

25 For Agriculture:
  • Distributed water use was the amount supplied to the Agriculture industry by water providers.
  • Total water consumption by Agriculture was sourced from the 2011-12 ARMS. Generally, the amount of distributed and reuse water consumed (collected on the ABS 2011-12 WSSS) was subtracted from total water consumed, with the remainder assumed to be self-extracted water. Note that self-extracted water for the Agriculture industry includes all groundwater that is extracted by Agriculture businesses.
  • Reuse water usage includes water used from regional reuse schemes.
  • Data for Victoria were confronted against Victorian Water Register data (Department of Environment and Primary Industry, State Government Victoria, 2012).
  • The agricultural activities water consumption data presented in this publication are slightly different to the corresponding data presented in Water Use on Australian Farms, 2011-12 (ABS cat. no. 4618.0). The Water Account Australia estimates water consumption on farms from water suppliers and supply and use data provided by state and territory government bodies, as well as data collected on the ABS Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS), 2011-12, whereas the ARMS 2011-12 is the single source of data used to produce Water Use on Australian Farms, 2011-12. The main difference between the two publications is the total agricultural water consumption estimates for News South Wales and Victoria, which are slightly higher in the WAA.
  • The physical supply and use tables present an industry view of Agriculture. The Agriculture industry view presents only the agricultural activity that occurs in businesses where the primary income producing activity (i.e. the activity with value added that exceeds the value added of any other activity carried out by the same business) of the business is agricultural production. Businesses which undertake some agricultural activity but for which other activities provide most of the income are excluded from the Agriculture industry view. For example, a business which generates most of its income from transporting agricultural produce, but also grows some agricultural commodities would be classified to the Transport, postal and warehousing industry. The agricultural production is still counted but is attributed to the Transport, postal and warehousing industry. As such the industry view of Agriculture shows a lower level (approximately 5%) of water consumption than the agricultural activity view.
  • Note also that Water Use on Australian Farms, 2011-12 (ABS cat. no. 4618.0) presents an activity view of agriculture - therefore its total consumption estimates for all States and Territories are slightly different to the industry estimates presented in the physical water supply and use tables in the 2011-12 WAA.
  • In 2011–12, improved reporting by the Water supply industry led to a large change (compared to previous years) in the split of distributed/self-extracted water used by Agriculture in New South Wales. Future releases of the WAA will include revised data for New South Wales for the years prior to 2011–12.

26 For Mining and Manufacturing:
  • Water use and consumption estimates (including in-stream water use and water discharges) for the Mining and Manufacturing industries were sourced from the ABS 2011-12 EWES, supplemented with information from company websites and annual/environmental reports.
  • Mine dewatering is categorised as self-extracted in-stream (non-consumptive) use by the Mining industry. The water is usually used on-site or subsequently discharged to the environment.
  • Estimates for Mining and Manufacturing in this publication are presented at ANZSIC sub-division levels (with the exception of estimates of regulated discharges, which are presented at division level only).

27 For Electricity and gas supply:
  • For the 2004-05 and 2008-09 editions of WAA, data for water use by electricity generators were sourced from the ABS EGS of water use (a census of all energy producers with a greater than 10 MW capacity), however this survey was not conducted for 2011-12. Data for 2011-12 were sourced from the ABS 2011-12 EWES, along with available administrative data from annual reports, sustainability reports and business websites. When survey or administrative data was not available, the data was modelled based on National Greenhouse Energy Reporting System (NGERS) data.

28 For "Other" industries (includes construction, service industries, government, education, health, arts and recreation - see Glossary for list of industries):
  • Estimates of physical water use were sourced from the ABS 2011-12 EWES and information supplied by water providers in the ABS 2011-12 WSSS. Where information was not provided, industry specific coefficients were applied.

29 For household water use:
  • Distributed and reuse water use was the amount supplied to households by water providers (these data were sourced mainly from the ABS 2011-12 WSSS).
  • Self-extracted water use by households not connected to mains water was calculated by applying average state "volume (kL) per connection" coefficients and applying these to the households known not to be served by water providers (estimated by subtracting the connections served by water providers from the total number of households in each State and Territory). Note that self-extracted water use estimates for households do not include rainwater tank usage for households connected to mains supply.
  • Population estimates were sourced from Regional Population Growth, Australia, 2012 (cat. no. 3218.0).
Environmental Flows

30 Key Commonwealth, State and Territory water agencies recognise two forms of water used for Environmental Flows:
  • Planned (rules-based) environmental water relates to statutory requirements to maintain specific water regimes (e.g. particular levels, flow rates, aquifer pressures).
  • Held (entitlement-based) environmental water relates to specific entitlements, which accrue annual allocations of water that can be extracted (or left in-stream) for environmental purposes.

31 Some water utilities do not measure all Environmental Flows and there is subsequent uncertainty around the level estimates. In the 2008-09 and 2009-10 editions of WAA Environmental Flows were not separately identified in the physical supply and use tables. The Environmental Flows that were reported in surveys were presented within the estimates for distributed, reuse and in-stream water supplied and used by the Water supply, sewerage and drainage services and Electricity and gas supply industries. Consumption for these industries was not affected by this treatment of Environmental Flows volumes (i.e. these flows were defined as non-consumptive use).

32 Due to the uncertainty in the estimates, the 2010-11 and 2011-12 editions of the WAA presented Environmental Flows only within the regulated discharge estimates for the Water supply, sewerage and drainage services and Electricity and gas supply industries. The Environmental Flows were not presented within the estimates for distributed, reuse and in-stream water supplied and used.

Data Quality and Reliability

33 Water Accounts for Australia estimates are prepared from a wide range of statistical sources. Some are closely related to the environmental accounting framework, but others are not completely aligned in various respects, including coverage, concepts and timing. Most of the basic data are derived from statistical surveys or as a by-product of government administrative processes. The frequency, detail and timeliness of these data sources are constrained by many factors, including available resources and meeting the administrative requirements of government. Any improvement in timeliness of data is usually at the expense of detail, reliability or additional resources. Therefore, estimates may be subject to modelling to fill some of the gaps from surveys or administrative collections.

34 The majority of water supply and use data is collected by the ABS (with the following exceptions) and is coherent with other data sources:
  • Electricity and gas supply estimates were mostly modelled using administrative data from annual reports, websites and the NGERS (see paragraph 27).
  • For households not connected to mains water, self-extracted water use was based on coefficients of water use (see paragraph 29).



35 The Monetary supply and use section presents aggregates of all available quantitative monetary data (dollars) in terms of the supply and use of water within the Australian economy for the financial year 2011-12. Supply and use tables illustrate the economic transactions associated with the use of water and the provisions of sewerage, waste water and drainage services (also referred to as water related services).

36 The monetary section covers:
  • supply of distributed water and water related services in the economy by the Water supply, sewerage and drainage services, Mining, Manufacturing, and Electricity and gas supply industries;
  • expenditure on water and water related services by industries, households and governments; and
  • value added to the economy by the major water-using industries.

37 The scope is limited to distributed water, reuse water and waste water, sewerage and drainage services. Distributed water is further subdivided into:
  • urban distributed water
  • rural distributed water
  • bulk water (both urban and rural).

38 Rural distributed water is water supplied via mains, open channels or natural water ways, carted untreated water/treated effluent supplied by water suppliers (including industries other than the Water supply, sewerage and drainage services industry) for irrigation and other rural use by the agriculture industry. Urban distributed water is water supplied by water suppliers via mains water systems for non-agriculture use.

39 The scope is also limited to "net distributed water" which, in this context, is defined as water that has been supplied from one economic unit to another for a fee, creating a measurable economic transaction. The net distributed water excludes distribution losses and supply to the environment for which there is no matching economic transaction.

40 For national and environmental accounting purposes the Water supply industry is considered to provide the service of 'water delivery' rather than being the seller of a product (water).

41 Monetary data for the supply (sales) of distributed water and monetary data for the use (purchase) of distributed water by industries, governments and households have been integrated during the compilation process. This requires some adjustments to input data to ensure consistency of information in the WAA.

42 It is difficult to separately identify the revenue from reuse water with that from distributed mains supply and estimates on revenue and expenditure on distributed water also include transactions associated with reuse water.

43 Many businesses and households use self-extracted water for their own use, such as farms for irrigation or hydro power plants to generate electricity. Estimates for the value of self-extracted water have not been included in this section due to lack of reliable data.
Data Sources

44 Data presented in this section are drawn from a variety of sources including those used in the Physical water supply and use section. In addition to these sources, the following ABS data were used:
45 Administrative data were also sourced from:
  • Water suppliers' annual financial reports
  • Public administration and finance data

Methods for Calculating Monetary Supply and Use

46 The data collected from these sources were collated and aggregated to State and Territory level.

47 Industry gross value added:
48 For households:
  • Expenditure on distributed water was calculated by taking total volume and connected properties reported by each water provider, calculating average consumption values per household and applying the provider's fixed and variable tariff structures to these average values. Where tariff information is not available, an average water rate ($/kL) was applied to the volume of water consumed by the households within those service areas.

49 For government:
  • Government expenditure and social transfers in kind monetary data were obtained from ABS Australian System of National Accounts, 2011-12 (unpublished data).

50 For industries:
  • Revenue and expenditure on water and related services for the water supply industries were sourced from the ABS 2011-12 WSSS, supplemented by administrative data.
  • Information on expenditure on water and related services by other industries was sourced from the ABS 2011-12 EWES.

51 Water intensity:
  • Water intensity can be expressed as the amount of industrial output produced from a corresponding unit of water used in the production process. This is expressed in the monetary tables as industry gross value added ($ millions) per GL of water used. Comparisons between industries and changes over time in the average gross value added per GL of water use is complicated by the impact of prices, particularly for Agriculture and Mining, where commodity prices can vary substantially from year to year. This is relevant for analyses of incomes (current prices) generated per GL of water consumed in a given year. For this reason, the percentage change movements in industry gross value added per GL of water consumed between 2010-11 and 2011-12 have been calculated using chain volume measures of industry gross value added. It should also be noted that the data represent industry averages. Changes over time in the mix of commodities produced by a broad level industry such as Agriculture, Mining or Manufacturing could result in significant changes in the water intensity.

Data Quality and Reliability

52 The total revenue from sales of water and water related services by the Water supply, sewerage and drainage services industry (i.e. the supply side estimates) were coherent with Australian Industry, National Accounts Supply table and National Water Commission National Performance Report (NPR) data.

53 Water use estimates for households, industries and governments were based on several ABS surveys and National Accounts data. Expenditure estimates and annual movements for final consumption by households and intermediate industries are in line with modelled results using the physical water volume and Consumer Price Index (CPI) data, and supply/revenue estimates.


Data Sources

54 The Gross Value of Irrigated Agricultural Production (GVIAP) was estimated using data from the ABS 2011-12 ARMS, as well as other ABS collections and administrative data used to calculate the value of agricultural commodities produced (see Gross Value of Irrigated Agricultural Production, 2011-12 (ABS cat. no. 4610.0.55.008)).

Method of Calculation

55 The ABS methodology for calculating GVIAP is described in the information paper Methods of estimating the Gross Value of Irrigated Agricultural Production (ABS cat. no. 4610.0.55.008).

56 See Related Information for other ABS publications containing water-related information. There are a number of non-ABS publications that may be of interest to users of water data, some of which were used in the compilation of the Water Account Australia. These include: