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


Water consumption by sector

Many parts of Australia experienced below average rainfall in 2004-05, with drought conditions existing in some areas. These dry conditions have led to urban water restrictions and reduced availability of water for irrigators. Water consumption in Australia for 2004-05 was 18,767 gigalitres (GL), a decrease of 14% from 2000-01 when it was 21,703 GL.

The agriculture industry had the highest water use in 2004-05, accounting for 65% of total water consumption (12,191 GL). This was a decrease from 14,989 GL in 2000-01.

In New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory combined, water consumption was 5,977 GL in 2004-05, a decrease of 32% from 2000-01 (8,783 GL).

Victoria had water consumption of 4,993 GL in 2004-05, a 7% decrease compared with 2000-01 (5,375 GL). In 2004-05, the agriculture industry accounted for two-thirds of Victoria’s water consumption.

In Queensland, 4,361 GL of water was consumed in 2004-05, a decrease of 2% from 2000-01 (4,267 GL). The agriculture industry accounted 67% of Queensland’s water consumption.

South Australia’s water consumption stayed about the same between 2004-05 (1,365 GL) and 2000-01 (1,383 GL). In 2004-05, the agriculture industry in South Australia accounted for 75% of the state’s total water consumption, followed by households with 11% (144 GL).

In Western Australia, 1,495 GL of water was consumed in 2004-05 compared to 1,353 GL in 2000-01 (an increase of 10%). Agriculture in Western Australia accounted for just over one-third (36%), followed by households (24%) and mining (12%).

Tasmania consumed 434 GL of water in 2004-05, up 6% from 2000-01 (408 GL). In this state, agriculture accounted for nearly two-thirds (59%), followed by households (16%) and manufacturing (11%).

In 2004-05, the Northern Territory consumed 141 GL of water, an increase of 5% from 2000-01 (134 GL), with agriculture accounting for about one-third (33%), followed by households (22%).

Water consumption by sector

Graph: Water consumption by sector
(a) Includes sewerage and drainage services.
(b) Includes water losses.
(c) Includes services to agriculture; hunting and trapping.
Note: Water consumption is equal to the sum of distributed water use from water suppliers plus self-extracted water use and reuse water use less water supplied to others less in-stream use and less distributed water use by the environment.
Source: ABS, Water Account Australia, 2004-05 (cat. no. 4610.0).

Water consumption by agriculture

The agriculture industry is the largest consumer of water in Australia, accounting for about two-thirds of total water consumed in 2004-05. Nearly all (91%) of the water used for agriculture is for the irrigation of pastures and crops.

Water consumption by the agriculture industry is very much influenced by climatic conditions and this must be taken into account when assessing changes in water use.

For large parts of southern and eastern Australia, dry conditions have persisted for nearly 11 years. For the agriculturally important Murray-Darling Basin, October 2007 marked the sixth year of lower-than-average rainfall totals (Endnote 1).

In 2004-05, the agriculture industry consumed 12,191 gigalitres (GL), nearly one-fifth (19%) less water compared with 2000-01 (14,989 GL). The largest percentage decreases in water consumption from 2000-01 to 2004-05 were in rice (72%) and cotton (37%). This was due to the dry conditions in New South Wales and a decrease in the area irrigated for rice and cotton in response to reduced water allocations because of the drought.

Water consumption by agriculture
Graph: Water consumption by agriculture
(a) NT values are too small to show on graph.
Source: ABS, Water Account Australia, 2004-05 (cat. no. 4610.0).

Water consumption by agriculture, by activity

Graph: Water consumption by agriculture, by activity
(a) Includes livestock, pasture, grains and other agriculture (excluding dairy farming).
Source: ABS, Water Account Australia, 2004-05 (cat. no. 4610.0)

Water consumption by irrigation

Most of the water (91%) used for agricultural production is for irrigation of crops and pastures, with the rest used for other agricultural purposes such as drinking water for stock and dairy/piggery cleaning.

Climate conditions affect both availability of water for irrigation and the need to irrigate in order to supplement rainfall.

Some crops such as rice, cotton and grapevines are highly dependent on irrigation. For other crops such as grazing pasture and sugar cane, irrigation water supplements natural rainfall or provides moisture at critical periods of plant growth. The area to be irrigated and the volume applied depend on the crop type and location.

In 2005-06, the total volume of water used for irrigation was 10,844,708 megalitres (ML). ‘Pasture for grazing’ used the most water in Australia in 2005-06. It accounted for just over one-quarter (26.4%) of the total volume of irrigation water and for just under one-third (31%) of the total area irrigated nationally in 2005-06 (2,583,000 ha).
The most heavily irrigated crop in terms of the volume of water applied was rice, which had an average application rate of 12.3 ML per hectare (ha) in 2005-06. This was almost three times the national average rate across all crops and pastures (4.2 ML/ha). Cotton was the next highest (6.3 ML/ha).

Cotton farming used 16% of water consumed in the agriculture industry (1,746,386 ML), followed by rice (11% or 1,230,379 ML) and sugar cane farming (10% or 1,103,802 ML).

It should be noted that the 2005-06 data cannot be directly compared with previous years’ data provided in the Feature Article (page 12) because a different methodology was used for their compilation.

Pasture / crop
Area under pasture or crop
‘000 ha
Area irrigated
‘000 ha
Application rate

Nurseries, cut flowers or cultivated turf
Sugar cane
Fruit trees, nut trees, plantation or berry fruits (a)
Pasture for hay and silage
Vegetables for human consumption
Pasture for grazing
389 225
Pasture for seed production

(a) Excludes grapevines.
Source: ABS, Water Use on Australian Farms, 2005-06 (cat. no. 4618.0).

Water consumption by manufacturing

In 2004-05, total water use by the manufacturing industry was 589,333 megalitres (ML), or 3% of Australia’s total water consumption). This was 7% higher than the water used by manufacturing in 2000-01 (548,887 ML).

Queensland had the highest total water consumption for manufacturing in 2004-05 (157,754 ML), followed by New South Wales (125,995 ML), Victoria (113,589 ML) and Western Australia (81,089 ML). Between 2000-01 and 2004-05, water consumption increased in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory (combined), Victoria, Queensland, and Western Australia, but decreased in Tasmania and the Northern Territory. South Australia remained approximately the same.

Water consumption in the manufacturing industry varies according to what is being produced. The largest volume of water was
used by the Food, beverage and tobacco manufacturers (215,029 ML), followed by Metal products (146,218 ML) and Wood and paper products (99,238 ML).

While most manufacturers used distributed water, Metal product and Wood and paper product, manufacturers used more self-extracted water (water extracted from water bodies, such as rivers, by the manufacturers themselves) than distributed water.

The use of reuse water by manufacturers increased by nearly three-quarters (74%) between 2000-01 and 2004-05 from 7,474 ML to 13,035 ML. The definition of reuse water is drainage, waste or storm water that is used again without being discharged to the environment.

Water consumption by manufacturing
Graph: Water consumption by manufacturing
Source: ABS, Water Account Australia, 2004-05 (cat. no. 4610.0).

Water consumption by mining

Mining broadly refers to the extraction of minerals occurring naturally as solids such as coal and ores, liquids such as crude petroleum, or gases such as natural gas. Australia continues to rank as one of the world’s leading mining nations with substantial resources of major minerals and fuel close to the surface.

The mining industry is the second largest export earner for Australia, accounting for 38% of the total value of exports in
2005-06, principally from the coal and metal ore mining industries. Total production of the mining industry, as measured by industry gross value added, increased by 4% between 2003-04 and 2004-05. This rise has seen a corresponding increase in water consumption for this industry.

In 2004-05, total water consumption by the mining industry was 413,266 megalitres (ML), or 2% of total water use in Australia. This was 29% higher than water consumed by the mining industry in 2000-01 (320,848 ML).

Western Australia had the highest total water consumption for mining in 2004-05 (182,552 ML), followed by Queensland (83,057 ML), New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory combined (62,868 ML) and Victoria (31,736 ML).

Most water consumed in the mining industry is from self-extracted sources (that is, water that mining companies extract themselves). Water is also often obtained from mine dewatering, which occurs when water is collected through the process of mining and mineral extraction, or rainfall, run-off and water infiltration, and is later discharged.

Water consumption by mining
Graph: Water consumption by mining
Source: ABS, Water Account Australia, 2004-05 (cat. no. 4610.0).

Water consumption by electricity and gas

The electricity and gas industry is a significant user of water. In 2004-05, 271,220 megalitres (ML) of water was consumed by the electricity and gas supply industry. This is an increase of 6% across Australia since 2000-01.

There were increases in all states and territories except Victoria and Western Australia, as shown in the graph above.

Of the 271,220 ML consumed by the electricity and gas supply industry in 2004-05, nearly all (271,035 ML) was used by electricity generators only. Coal-fired power stations use considerable volumes of water in boilers and cooling towers.

Water consumption by electricity and gas
Graph: Water consumption by electricity and gas
Note: Tas. And NT values too small to show.
Source: ABS, Water Account Australia, 2004-05 (cat. no. 4610.0).

Water used for hydro-electric power generation is not considered to be ‘consumed’. This is because water passes through turbines to generate electricity and is immediately discharged back to the environment where it is made available for users downstream. Water used in this way is referred to as ‘in-stream use’.

The difference between the volumes of water used ‘in-stream’ and ‘consumed’ by electricity generators is highlighted in the graph below. It shows that the volume of water used by electricity generators in Tasmania is considerably greater than the volume consumed. The same applies in the other states and territories that have significant in-stream use.

Water consumption and use(a) by electricity generators, 2004-05
Graph: Water consumption and use(a) by electricity generators, 2004–05
(a) Includes in-stream use.
Source: ABS, Water Account Australia, 2004-05 (cat. no. 4610.0).

Water consumption by households

Household water consumption includes water for drinking, cooking, cleaning and outdoors (e.g. gardens, swimming pools). In 2004-05, household water consumption was 2,108,263 megalitres (ML), accounting for 11% of total water consumption in Australia.

This was a 7% decrease since 2000-01 (2,278,173 ML). The decrease may be attributed in part to mandatory water restrictions in most states and territories since 2002 and households voluntarily conserving water.

New South Wales households consumed the largest volume of water (572,711 ML), followed by Queensland (492,908 ML) and Victoria (404,632 ML). Total household water consumption decreased in all states and territories from 2000-01 to 2004-05, with the exception of Tasmania which showed an increase of 17%.
Western Australia reported the highest water consumption per person with 180 kilolitres (kL), followed by the Northern Territory (153 kL), Tasmania (143 kL) and Queensland (124 kL). Victoria had the lowest average household water consumption per capita (81 kL) followed by New South Wales (84 kL), South Australia (94 kl) and the Australian Capital Territory (95 kL).

Nationally, Australians consumed 103 kL per person during 2004-05 compared to 2000-01 when average water consumption was 120 kL per person.

Household water consumption
Graph: Household water consumption
Source: ABS, Water Account Australia, 2004-05 (cat. no. 4610.0).
  1. Australian Government, Bureau of Meteorology, Special Climate Statement 14, 1 November 2007. <back

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