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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2005  
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Contents >> Other areas of social concern >> Household water use and conservation

Household Water Use and Conservation

ENVIRONMENT

In 2004, the vast majority (90%) of Australian households reported conserving water by using a water saving device (such as a dual flush toilet) and/or by a practice such as taking shorter showers.

Australia is the second driest continent after Antarctica (endnote 1) Low overall rainfall is compounded by variability from year-to-year and season-to-season, with recent droughts having a very strong impact in many regions. Australian cities and towns depend on rain falling in the catchment areas of water storage facilities such as Warragamba Dam - which accounts for about 80% of the water supplied to the Sydney region. In recent years the water level in Warragamba Dam has fallen dramatically, from 76% of full capacity at the end of January 2002 to 42% at the end of January 2005 (endnote 2)

In 1994, representing all three levels of government, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) developed a water reform framework for Australia’s rural and urban water industries. For households, this generally meant the introduction of a two-part tariff, made up of an access charge and a variable use charge. These tariffs aim to manage demand and to send signals to households that water is a limited resource and needs to carefully used.3 Water restrictions, of different levels, have also been implemented to limit demand for water across states and territories, and households have been encouraged to use water saving devices. These programs aim to address demand for water and consumer behaviour.


Water use

This article uses data from two sources. Data on water use and consumption come from the 2000-01 Water Account for Australia, which is compiled by the ABS using information from a range of ABS surveys as well as state, territory and local government agencies, water authorities and industry organisations. Data on water source, quality and conservation come from supplements to the ABS Monthly Population Survey.

The majority of the water supply and infrastructure in Australia’s urban environments is under the jurisdiction of state and local governments and water authorities.

Water utilities supply water and remove waste water.

Mains water is supplied to users through pipes or channels. Self-extracted water is extracted directly from the environment (for example from rivers or lakes) for use.


HOUSEHOLD WATER USE

In 2000-01, households directly used almost one-tenth (9%) of the total water consumed in Australia. While agriculture consumes a much larger proportion (67%), the water is consumed in the production of goods and services which are in part utilised by households. In 2000-01, Australian households used 2181GL of water (more than four times the volume of Sydney Harbour) an increase of 28% from 1993-94 when they used 1704GL. Although some of the increase in volume used is due to population growth, average per capita use also increased over this period from 95kL in 1993-94 to 115kL in 2000-01. This pattern was evident across all states and territories, with Tasmania (from 67 to 130kL) and South Australia (from 89 to 123kL) having the largest relative increases in average per capita use.

In 2000-01, the Northern Territory had the highest average household water use per capita (212kL), followed by Queensland (137kL) and Western Australia (132kL). New South Wales had the lowest average use per capita (101kL). Climate plays a significant role in household water use, explaining some of the differences between states and territories.

Household water use per capita - 1993-94, 1996-97 and 2000-01
Graph: Household water use per capita - 1993-94, 1996-97 and 2000-01


Water conservation

Data on household water source, quality and conservation are from Environmental Issues: People’s Views and Practices, March 2004 (ABS cat. no. 4602.0). Surveys were conducted in June 1994, and in March 1998, 2001 and 2004 as a supplement to the Monthly Population Survey. The data relate to rural and urban areas across all states and territories of Australia (Northern Territory data refer mainly to urban areas). Remote and sparsely populated parts of Australia are excluded.

Households were asked a variety of questions relating to water conservation including questions relating to devices (such as dual flush toilets and reduced flow shower heads), as well as practices or behaviours (such as taking shorter showers and recycling water).


SOURCES OF HOUSEHOLD WATER

In 2004, the vast majority of Australian households in capital cities (98%) and in the rest of the country excluding remote and sparsely settled areas (85%) reported sourcing all or some of their water from mains or town supplies. More households outside of capital cities reported sourcing all or some of their water from self-extracted sources (such as rivers) than did households in capital cities. Almost one-third (31%) of households outside capital cities had rainwater tanks, 9% had bores or wells and 6% sourced at least some of their water from rivers, creeks and dams.

Recycled water supplied by water utilities for household use is virtually non-existent in Australia due to health legislation and the absence of infrastructure.

About one-third (34%) of households in 2004 considered installing a rainwater tank compared to just over one-quarter (26%) in 1994. In 2004, the most commonly reported reason preventing households from installing a rainwater tank was cost (41%) followed by having no time (25%).

In both 2001 and 2004, around two-thirds of households reported satisfaction with the quality of the mains/town water for drinking (66% in 2001 and 70% in 2004). In 2004, households in South Australia (36%), Western Australia (33%) and Queensland (28%) were less likely to be satisfied with the quality of their mains water than were households in other states or territories. Households in these states were more likely to use water filters for drinking water (South Australia 30%, Western Australia 29% and Queensland 27%). Across Australia, the use of water filters increased from 18% of households in 1998 to 26% in 2004.

Bottled water has become more popular in capital cities (from 4% reporting some use of bottled water in 1994 to 21% in 2004) and in the rest of state or territory (from 1% in 1994 to 20% in 2004). At the same time, the proportion of people satisfied with the quality of mains water for drinking has increased from 66% in 2001 to 70% in 2004.

SOURCES OF HOUSEHOLD WATER - 1994, 1998, 2001 AND 2004

Capital City
Rest of state/territory (a)
1994
1998
2001
2004
1994
1998
2001
2004

Source(b)
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
%

Mains/town water
98.5
98.2
98.7
98.2
84.5
84.3
85.5
85.4
Rainwater tank
6.7
7.9
7.5
8.5
28.6
31.0
29.0
31.1
Purchased bottled water
3.7
12.6
17.6
21.2
1.3
9.6
12.7
19.6
Bore/well
3.2
3.4
3.2
3.8
8.1
8.4
7.9
8.6
Spring
0.4
0.2
0.1
0.2
1.4
0.7
0.5
0.7
River/creek/dam(c)
. .
1.1
0.8
0.7
. .
7.6
8.1
6.0
Other
0.7
0.7
0.4
0.9
5.5
1.6
1.0
2.2

‘000
‘000
‘000
‘000
‘000
‘000
‘000
‘000

All households
3,917.7
4,293.0
4,521.9
4,773.2
2,496.8
2,706.7
2,822.3
3,002.2

(a) Excludes remote and sparsely populated areas.
(b) More than one source may be specified.
(c) Data not available for 1994.

Source: Environmental Issues: People’s Views and Practices, March 2004 (ABS cat. no. 4602.0).

Water conservation devices - 1994 1998, 2001 and 2004
Graph: Water conservation devices - 1994 1998, 2001 and 2004



CONSERVING WATER

In 2004, the vast majority (90%) of Australian households reported conserving water by installing a water conservation device such as a dual flush toilet, and/or by undertaking a water conservation practice such as taking shorter showers or using full loads when washing clothes. Households can conserve water both in and around their dwelling as well as in the garden.

...in and around the dwelling

In 2000-01, bathrooms and toilets accounted for over one-third (35%) of household water use. Installing water efficient devices can reduce the volume of water used. From 1994 to 2004, the proportions of households with Dual flush toilet reduced flow shower heads and dual flush toilets have increased (from 22% to 44% and from 39% to 74% respectively). In some areas of Australia the installation of water efficient devices is compulsory in new dwellings.

From 2001 to 2004, there were also increases in the proportion of households recycling and/or reusing water (from 11% to 16%), using full loads when washing (from 16% to 18%) and taking shorter showers (from 14% to 18%). The proportion of households turning off or repairing dripping taps decreased from 20% to 16%.

SELECTED WATER CONSERVATION PRACTICES(a) IN AND AROUND THE DWELLING - 2001 AND 2004

2001
2004
Methods(b)
%
%

Take shorter showers
14.4
17.9
Use full loads when washing clothes/dishes
15.8
17.6
Recycle/reuse water
11.3
15.9
Turn off/repair dripping taps
19.5
15.9
Use less water in baths/troughs/basins
6.6
8.7
Use bucket not hose to wash car
4.6
6.1
Proportion of households which
take conservation practices in and around the dwelling
43.6
46.5

‘000
‘000

All households
7,344.8
7,775.4

(a) Excludes conservation practices in the garden.
(b) More than one method may be specified.

Source: Environmental Issues: People’s Views and Practices, March 2004 (ABS cat. no. 4602.0).

WATER CONSERVATION MEASURES IN HOUSEHOLDS WITH GARDENS - 2001 AND 2004

2001
2004
Methods(a)
%
%

Use mulch(b)
50.6
58.8
Plant native shrubs or trees(b)
10.3
17.0
Water early morning/late evening
26.2
22.5
Check soil moisture before watering
5.7
3.9
Use recycled water
10.6
17.9
Reduce lawn areas
2.0
2.4
Don’t water lawn area
6.3
7.0
Water less frequently but for longer periods
12.4
10.8
Other
12.4
14.9
Don’t water at all
5.6
10.0
Proportion of households with gardens which take conservation measures in the garden
89.2
91.3

‘000
‘000

Total households with gardens
6,241.9
6,427.6

(a) More than one method may be specified.
(b) Includes only those households who used mulch, or planted native shrubs or trees specifically to conserve water in the garden.

Source: Environmental Issues: People’s Views and Practices, March 2004 (ABS cat. no. 4602.0).

...in the garden

The proportion of Australian households with gardens declined over the decade from 87% in 1994 to 83% in 2004. This may reflect the move towards higher density housing which often has little or no garden (see Australian Social Trends 2003, Changes in Australian housing).

The volume of water used outside the house depends on a number of factors including the size of the garden and climate. In 2000-01, of the water used by households across Australia, 44% was used for outdoor purposes with the vast majority (88%) of water being supplied by the mains.

Water restrictions were introduced in most capital cities around Australia during 2002-03. The level and extent of restrictions vary across states and territories. For households, these restrictions impact on the use of water outside the house, primarily in the garden.

In 2004, the most common method of conserving water in the garden was to use mulch (59% of households with gardens - up from 51% in 2001). The proportion of households planting native shrubs or trees in order to use less water also increased over this time period from 10% to 17%. In 2004, 23% of households watered early in the morning or late in the evening and 10% did not water their garden at all, compared with 26% and 6% respectively in 2001. Watering gardens by hand was more common in 2004 (71%) than in 2001 (66%). An increase in hand-watering may reflect restrictions on the use of other methods such as moveable or fixed sprinklers which have both declined in use over the same period (from 28% to 15%, and 31% to 22% respectively).

In 2004, using recycled water in the garden was one of the most common methods of conserving water (18% of households with gardens - increasing from 11% in 2001). The vast majority of households with gardens do attempt to conserve water in the garden (over 90% in 2004).


POPULATION PROJECTIONS AND WATER CONSUMPTION

Based on the three main projection series produced by the ABS, Australia’s population in 2026 is projected to increase to between 22.8 million and 25.7 million people(see Australian Social Trends 2004, Scenarios for Australia’s ageing population). Within this range the population is projected by Series B to be around 24.2 million in 2026 (endnote 4). With a population of this size, if the 2000-01 average per capita use of water (115kL) were to remain constant, Australians would consume around 28% more water than in 2000-01.

There has been debate over whether water supply will constrain population and economic growth or whether flexibility in water allocation and increases in the efficiency of use will allow population and economic growth, despite water resource limitations.(endnote 5) Either way, there seems to be little doubt that water use will continue to receive community and government attention.


ENDNOTES

1 Department of the Environment and Heritage 2004, Integrated Water Resource Management in Australia <http://www.deh.gov.au/water/publications/case-studies/water-reforms.html>, accessed 22 June 2004.

2 Sydney Water 2002, Bulk Water Storage and Supply Report <http://www.sydneywater.com.au/OurSystemsAndOperations/WaterConsumptionStorageReport/ReportArchive.cfm>, accessed 9 February 2005.

3 McDonald,D.H. 2004, The Economics of Water: Taking Full Account of First Use, Reuse and Return to the Environment, CSIRO.

4 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2003, Population Projections, Australia, 2002 to 2101, cat. no. 3222.0, ABS, Canberra.

5 Department of Environment and Heritage 2004, Human Settlements Theme Report <http://www.deh.gov.au/soe/2001/settlements/settlements06-4.html>, accessed 30 August 2004.


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