4613.0 - Australia's Environment: Issues and Trends, 2007  
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Contents >> Water trends >> Water conservation and management

Image: EstuaryWATER CONSERVATION AND MANAGEMENT


Water conservation - households

The majority of Australian households (93.4%) had access to mains water in March 2007. Other households relied on rainwater tanks, bores or wells, or water from rivers creeks and dams.

Some households supplemented their water supply by collecting water in containers or by using rainwater. Many Australian households also reported using grey water (54.5%) and bottled water (18.6%).

Sources of water for households
Graph: Sources of water for households
Note: Grey water not collected as a source of water in 1994 or 2001.
Source: ABS, Environmental Issues: People's Views and Practices, 2007 (cat. no. 4602.0).

Household water use and conservation has been a widely discussed issue in recent years due to drought conditions and water restrictions in many parts of Australia.

In addition to mandatory water restrictions in many parts of Australia, many Australians have been voluntarily conserving water by adopting water saving practices and installing water saving devices, such as dual flush toilets.

In 2007, the majority of Australian households had some type of water conservation device installed in their home. In June 1994, only 39.0% of households had a dual flush toilet. In 2007, 80.9% of households had a dual flush toilet. Water-efficient shower heads rose from 21.8% in 1994 to 55.1% in 2007.

In dwellings less than one year old, 96.0% of households had dual flush toilets only, and 74.4% had water-efficient shower heads only. When the dwelling was more than 30 years old, these figures fell to 64.0% for dual flush toilets and 45.8% for water-efficient shower heads.

Australia’s Water Efficiency Labelling Scheme (WELS), the first scheme of its kind in the world, requires mandatory water efficiency labels on all shower heads, washing machines, toilets, dishwashers, urinals and some types of taps (Endnote 1).

Households with water conservation devices
Graph: Households with water conservation devices
Source: ABS, Environmental Issues: People's Views and Practices, 2007 (cat. no. 4602.0).

Use of grey water by households

Grey water is used water from the shower/bath, laundry or kitchen that households collect for re-use. In 2007, grey water was the second most common source of water for households, after mains/town water. More than half (54.5%) of Australian households reported grey water as a source.

Victoria had the highest percentage of households reporting grey water as a source (71.7%), followed by the Australian Capital Territory (63.1%). The Northern Territory had the lowest reported use of grey water, but this was still substantial at almost a third of households (32.2%). In Tasmania, just over a third (37.0%) of households reported using grey water.

Use of grey water, 2007
Graph: Use of grey water, 2007
Note: NT and ACT data refers to the whole territory.
Source: ABS, Environmental Issues: People’s Views and Practices, 2007 (cat. no. 4602.0).


Water restrictions since 2002 have affected households primarily by limiting their use of water in the garden. In 2000-01, outdoor water use was the single largest component of domestic water consumption (44%).

In 2007, nearly a quarter (24.0%) of Australian households reported grey water as their primary source of water for the garden. More than four in ten households reported mains/town water (42.1%) as their primary source of water for the garden.

In Victoria and Queensland grey water was the most common main source of water for the garden (42.7% and 27.2% respectively). The Australian Capital Territory (20.5%) and New South Wales (19.0%) also reported high proportions of grey water use in the garden. The Northern Territory (3.5%) and Western Australia (4.5%) had the lowest proportion of households reporting grey water as their main source of water for the garden.

Grey water as the main source of water for the garden, 2007
Graph: Grey water as the main source of water for the garden, 2007
Note: Includes only households that have a garden. NT and ACT data refers to the whole territory.
Source: ABS, Environmental Issues: People’s Views and Practices, 2007 (cat. no. 4602.0)

In March 2007, more than four out of five of Australian households had their own garden, 83.5% compared with 86.3% in 1998. Slightly more than one-quarter (25.5%) of households with a garden don't water or relied on rainfall only. In Brisbane, 47.9% of households did not water or relied on rainfall only compared to a third (33.3%) in the rest of Queensland.
Households with rainwater tanks

In 2007, more than one-fifth (20.6%) of all households reported that their dwelling had a rainwater tank.

South Australia had by far the highest proportion of dwellings with a rainwater tank, (40.2% in Adelaide and 74.7% in the rest of the state). The Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory had the lowest proportion with a rainwater tank, 7.6% and 6.0% respectively.

Households with a rainwater tank, 2007
Graph: Households with a rainwater tank, 2007
Note: NT and ACT data refers to the whole territory.
Source: ABS, Environmental Issues: People's Views and Practices, 2007 (cat. no. 4602.0).


In 2007, saving water was the main reason (41.7%) reported by Australian households for why they had installed a rainwater tank.

Rainwater tanks are much more prevalent outside capital cities (34.7%) than within capital cities (12.5%). However, reasons for installing a water tank differed markedly between capital cities and the rest of the state. In areas outside capital cities, the most commonly reported reason was to save water. In the rest of the state the most common reason was that the dwelling was not connected to mains water.

More than 60% of households without a rainwater tank (but which had a dwelling suitable for a tank and which were home owners or purchasers) had considered installing one. Cost was the most common reason reported for not installing a rainwater tank (47.5%).

Reasons why household installed a rainwater tank, 2007
Graph: Reasons why household installed a rainwater tank, 2007
Source: ABS, Environmental Issues: People's Views and Practices, 2007 (cat. no. 4602.0).

In 2007, 19.3% of households reported that a rainwater tank was a source of water for their dwelling. This was an increase of 4.1 percentage points since June 1994 when 15.2% of households reported rainwater as a source.

Households using a rainwater tank as a source of water
Graph: Households using a rainwater tank as a source of water
Source: ABS, Environmental Issues: People's Views and Practices, 2007 (cat. no. 4602.0).

Water for the environment

Human water use has had a significant effect on the nation’s waterways, both in terms of water quality and its availability for aquatic ecosystems (animal and plant life). Extensive development of Australia’s water resources since the 1970s through dam construction, with water stored and diverted for agriculture and domestic use, has led to reductions in water flows.

Reductions in flow and changes in water quality due to human activity can have significant environmental consequences. They can cause unhealthy rivers and reduced biodiversity through loss of habitat. For example, the Barmah-Millewa Forest in New South Wales and Victoria is the world’s largest river red gum forest, however, decreased flooding in recent years has led to declining forest health and decreased waterbird breeding and native fish-spawning.

Decreased water flows can also affect water quality leading to problems such as blue-green algae. Such issues do not only pose a threat to the natural environment but can also result in problems such as reduced suitability of water for stock and reduced crop yields.

In the interest of maintaining the health of rivers, a number of states and territories have begun plans to allocate and provide water to the environment - generally known as “environmental flows”.

Environmental flows recognise the needs of rivers for an amount of water to maintain ecological health for the protection of the environment and sustainability of water resources.

The ABS Water Account Australia, 2004-05 presented information on water released for the purpose of the environment in accordance with specific environmental regulations. This has been termed environmental provisions, in recognition that it does not represent all environmental flows, but only the volume of water released by water suppliers. Other methods of providing water to the environment include placing limits and rules on licences for water extraction and strategic management of flows and water quality.

In 2004-05, 1,005,277 megalitres (ML) of water was supplied to the environment by water providers. This is an increase of 119% across Australia since 2000-01. States with large increases were Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania.

ENVIRONMENTAL PROVISIONS
NSW/ACT
Vic.
Qld
SA
WA
Tas.
NT
Aust.
ML
ML
ML
ML
ML
ML
ML
ML

2000-01
200 528
253 172
4 462
873
-
358
-
459 393
2004-05
127 190
373 929
383 606
713
18
118 718
1 103
1 005 277

Nil or rounded to zero (including null cells)
Source: ABS, Water Account Australia, 2004-05 (cat. no. 4610.0).

Water quality

Water quality is directly related to river and wetland health. The National Water Commission (NWC) commissioned an assessment of water resources, Australian Water Resources 2005 (AWR 2005) to provide a picture of Australia’s water resources at June 2005 and to provide a baseline of conditions at the start of the NWI reform process.

The AWR 2005 included a Framework for the Assessment of River and Wetland Health (FARWH). The assessment is based on the six key components listed in the table below. The results are aggregated and ranked to produce an index between 0 (severely degraded) and 1 (pristine) of the health of the river or wetland. The FARWH was tested in Victoria and Tasmania, where it was found that some water management areas were of lower overall condition. They include: Moorabool, Loddon, Campaspe, Avoca, South Gippsland and Hopkins water management areas in Victoria; and the Jordan water management area in Tasmania.

RIVER AND WETLAND HEALTH
Environmental componentDetails of measurement

Catchment Disturbance IndexIncorporates the effects of land use, change in vegetation cover and infrastructure on the likely runoff of sediments, nutrients and other contaminants to rivers and wetlands. The index should incorporate the effect of large-scale, non-point source impacts.
Physical Form IndexUses measures of sediment inputs, riparian vegetation structure and connectedness (dams, weirs, levee banks, groundwater abstraction) to assess the state of local habitat and its likely ability to support aquatic life.
Hydrological Disturbance IndexRecognises the importance to aquatic ecosystem function of the water regime, both surface flow and groundwater, depending on the ecosystem.
Water Quality and Soils IndexConsiders the effects on biota of long-term changes in water quality characteristics (rivers and wetlands) and soil quality (wetlands), such as changes in suspended sediment and total nutrient concentrations or loads, and the effects of short-term changes in salinity and toxicity levels.
Fringing Zone IndexRepresents structural and condition features of the streamside zone, or the zone surrounding a wetland. While this index could contain features relevant to the Physical Form and Aquatic Biota indices, the zone is seen as such an important focus of management that is requires its own category.
Aquatic Biota IndexRepresents the response of biota to changes in the environment. This index can be based on extensive national sampling of invertebrates sensitive to disturbance. Other components of the biota (for example, fish, water plants, algae, and riparian vegetation condition) would give a fuller picture of the response of ecosystems to change.

Source: AWR 2005, Framework for the Assessment of River and Wetland Health.


The AWR 2005 also considered resource development and sustainable extraction of water.

A water source with a high level of development is one where water access entitlements are between 70% and 100% of sustainable yield. An overallocated water source is one where water access entitlements are more than 100% of sustainable yield. Sustainable yield is the level of water that can be removed from a water system without compromising key environmental assets or ecosystem functions.

Water resources level of development, 2004-05
Graph: Water resources level of development, 2004-05
Source: AWR 2005.


Water trading

Australia is one of a small number of water-scarce countries that has instituted markets for trading water.

The National Water Commission (NWC) regards water trading of all kinds - interstate and intrastate trade, permanent and temporary trades - as fundamental to water reform because it will help governments, water users and communities to better value and use the nation’s water resources.

Trading can occur on a temporary or permanent basis. Temporary transfers, where water entitlements are leased for a specified period of time (usually one year), are the most commonly used method of trading water in Australia. This market depends mainly on how much rain has fallen and how hot the season has been. The advantage of temporary transfers includes the ability to increase and decrease water allocations as needed. Buying water entitlements on a permanent basis usually involves a significant financial investment.

In 2004-05, 1,802 permanent and 13,456 temporary water trades were conducted in Australia, involving 247.6 gigalitres (GL) of water traded permanently and 1,052.8 GL traded temporarily. The highest number of permanent and temporary water trades was in Victoria (702 and 9,323 respectively). Victoria also had the largest volume of water temporarily traded in Australia - 444.3 gigalitres (GL). The highest volume of water traded permanently occurred in Western Australia (62.8 GL).

WATER TRADING,2004-05
Permanent water trades
Temporary water trades
no.
GL
no.
GL

NSW
164
41.3
2 042
382.6
Vic.
702
57 .4
9 323
444.3
Qld
168
20 .3
1 874
194 .2
SA
364
33.4
446
49 .5
WA
218
62.8
8
8 .6
Tas.
232
37.6
111
5.6
NT
-
-
-
-
ACT
-
-
-
-
Australia
1 802
247.6
13 456
1 052.8

nil or rounded to zero (including null cells)
- Note: Total for Australia cannot be calculated by taking the sum of the states and territories as this would double count interstate trades
Source: ABS, Water Account, 2004-05 (cat. no. 4610.0).


With the separation of water access entitlements from land titles, permanent water trade may involve a change of ownership, a change of location, or both. It should be noted that permanent trading data for New South Wales, Western Australia and Tasmania include trades that result in ownership changes from land sales, while Queensland has excluded these transactions. Therefore, comparisons between states require caution.

Water reform in Australia is complex because states and territories largely have the responsibility for water and catchment management, but each one has different approaches to defining environmental needs and acceptable levels of water quality. This is further complicated when a river crosses state boundaries, such as in the Murray-Darling Basin which includes New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory.
Endnotes
  1. WELS web site <http://www.waterrating.gov.au>, last viewed 6 September 2007. <back


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