4610.0 - Water Account, Australia, 2016-17 Quality Declaration 
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1 The Water Account, Australia (WAA) is one of the environmental-economic accounts produced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) which is compiled, as far as possible, in accordance with the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (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 2016-17. The tables illustrate the economic use of water and include: self-extracted, distributed, regulated discharge (including in-stream use) and reuse (see Glossary for definitions of these terms).


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

7 WAA includes the entire geographical area of Australia except the other territories as defined in the Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS).

8 The scope of WAA is fresh (or inland) and desalinated 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.


9 Coverage for both supply and use tables include 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);
  • water providers that provide reuse water to their customers; other large organisations which treat water and make it available for subsequent reuse;
  • other large organisations discharging water directly to the environment (e.g. power stations, mines); and
  • major in-stream water users (e.g. 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;
  • volume of rainwater tank usage by households connected to mains supply;
  • 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);
  • non-point/diffuse discharges;
  • soil water use; 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; and
  • Water consumption is equal to total water use (defined above) less in-stream water use and distributed water supplied to other users.
  • The use of distributed water by the environment (environmental flows), is not included in the measurement of total water consumption.

13 For most industries, water use and water consumption are the same because most industries do not have any in-stream use or do not supply water to other users. Water consumption and use will vary considerably for some industries; specifically, Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Services, Electricity and Gas Supply and Mining, 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 rural water utilities and service providers, including irrigators. This water may be supplied as reuse water to customers or discharged to the environment. This process is analogous to urban reuse systems, but the water is typically treated in urban systems before being supplied to users.

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 is not a regulated discharge because the water is not discharged directly to the environment. This volume of water become a regulated discharge after being treated by the Sewerage and Drainage Services industry, and is then 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 (or "na").

17 Environmental flows are presented as regulated discharges in the physical supply and use tables.

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:
  • 2016-17 Water Supply and Sewerage Services (WSSS) Survey;
  • 2014-15 Energy Water and Environment Survey (EWES); and
  • 2016-17 Rural and Agricultural Commodities Survey (REACS).

20 State and Territory government agencies and major businesses (including major state/territory water corporations):
  • NSW Water Supply and Sewerage reports under arrangement with the NSW Department of Primary Industries;
  • Rural Water Use Estimates (unpublished data) under arrangement with NSW Department of Primary Industries;
  • Groundwater Water Usage Data (unpublished data) under arrangement with the Victorian Water Register;
  • Queensland Statewide Water Information Management (SWIM) under arrangement with the Queensland Water Directorate (QWD);
  • Queensland local government comparative information (published report) (Department of Local Government, Racing and Multicultural Affairs);
  • Water Use Estimates: Snowy Hydro (unpublished data) under arrangement with Snowy Hydro Limited;
  • Water Use Estimates: Hydro Tasmania (unpublished data) under arrangement with Hydro Tasmania.

21 Surveys conducted by other government agencies, industry associations, and annual reports of water providers, including:
  • 2016-17 National Performance Report - Urban Water Utilities (Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology);
  • National Greenhouse Energy Reporting (unpublished data) under arrangement with Clean Energy Regulator;
  • Tasmanian Water and Sewerage: State of the Industry Report, 2016-17 (Office of the Tasmanian Economic Regulator); and
  • Annual/environmental/financial reports for the 2016-17 financial year 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, Centre of Environmental and Satellite Accounts, Physical Environment Accounts and Statistics, Australian Bureau of Statistics.

23 A complete list of water providers in 2016-17 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 2016-17 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);
  • Where applicable, volume of water produced from desalination plants as an alternative to fresh water produce;
  • Volumes 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;
  • 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 to the environment by location (i.e. surface water bodies, groundwater, sea);
  • 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;
  • Volume of water supplied to households and the number of connections served by water supply and sewerage services. Where information on water supplied to households was not available, neighbouring or matched Local Government Area (LGA) coefficients based on average megalitre use per connection were used; and
  • 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.

25 For Agriculture:
  • Distributed water use is the amount of water supplied to the Agriculture industry by water providers;
  • Water consumption by Agriculture was sourced from the 2016-17 REACS. Generally, the amount of distributed and reuse water consumed (collected on the ABS 2016-17 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 agricultural businesses;
  • Reuse water usage includes water used from regional reuse schemes;
  • Data for Victoria were confronted against the Victorian Water Register (Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning);
  • The data presented in this publication are slightly different to the data presented in Water Use on Australian Farms, 2016-17 (cat. no. 4618. 0). This is because of multiple data sources of WAA compilation, compared to the single source of ABS survey data used to produce Water Use on Australian Farms;
  • 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 10%) of water consumption than the agricultural activity view; and
  • Note also that Water Use on Australian Farms, 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 WAA.

26 For Mining and Manufacturing:
  • Water use and consumption estimates (including in-stream water use and water discharges) for the Mining and Manufacturing industries for 2015-16 and 2016-17 were modelled based on information from the ABS 2014-15 EWES, and 2015-16 and 2016-17 Business Turnover data. Where information from company websites and annual/environmental reports are available, that information is used.
  • 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.
  • Only division level estimates are published at the State/Territory level (sub-division splits are presented at the National level) due to lack of survey input data for Mining and Manufacturing industries.

27 For Electricity and Gas Supply:
  • Estimates of physical water used were modelled based on 2016-17 National Greenhouse Energy Reporting System (NGERS) data, benchmarks/coefficients derived from the 2008-09 ABS Electricity Generation Survey of water use (a census of all energy producers with a greater than 10 megawatt capacity), and information from company websites and annual/environmental reports.
  • A review of water use coefficients per gigawatt hour of energy produced was undertaken in 2016-17 resulting to revisions in 2015-16 and 2016-17 estimates.
  • Hydro-electricity data for NSW and Tasmania are sourced directly from Snowy Hydro and Hydro-Tasmania on special arrangements.

28 For Other Industries:
  • Estimates of physical water use for other industries in 2015-16 and 2016-17 were modelled based on information from the ABS 2014-15 EWES, and 2015-16 and 2016-17 Business Turnover data. Where information from company websites and annual/environmental reports are available, that information is used. Where water use information was not available, data was modelled using industry specific coefficients.

29 For household water use:
  • Distributed and reuse water use represent the amount supplied to households by water providers. These data were sourced mainly from the ABS 2016-17 WSSS.
  • Self-extracted water use by households was imputed against households not connected to mains water and the derived average state 'volume of water use (kL) per household'. The number of households not connected to mains was 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; and
  • Population estimates were sourced from Australian Demographic Statistics, Mar 2017 (cat. no. 3101.0).

30 For Soil Water:
  • Soil water use estimates were derived from the ABS publications, Agricultural Commodities, Australia, 2016-17 (cat. no. 7121.0) and Land Management and Farming in Australia, 2016-17 (cat. no. 4627.0);
  • Estimates were also derived using land use management data (Department of Agriculture & Water Resources) and Australian Forest and Wood Products Statistics (Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences);
  • Soil water abstraction is calculated by dividing yield by a water use co-efficient then calculating total water abstracted from the area planted for agricultural commodities;
  • The water use coefficient is usually measured in kg(mm x ha) for crops and in mm/year for other plants. These were constructed from an analysis of scientific case studies; and
  • The estimates of soil water use are still considered experimental and therefore feedback on the methods and sources used is sought by the ABS. For further information on soil water use, please refer to the feature article published with the 2011-12 edition of the WAA - Experimental Estimates of Soil Water Use in Australia.

Environmental flows

31 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); and
  • 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.

32 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 the 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 Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Services and Electricity and Gas Supply. Consumption for these industries was not affected by this treatment of environmental flows volumes (i.e. these flows were defined as non-consumptive use).

33 Environmental flows in the WAA are incorporated only in the regulated discharge estimates for the Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Services and Electricity and Gas Supply industries. They are not presented within the estimates for distributed, reuse and in-stream water supplied and used.

Data quality and reliability

34 WAA 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.

35 The majority of water supply and use data is collected by the ABS (with the following exceptions) and is coherent with other data sources:
  • New South Wales and Tasmania's hydro-electricity estimates were provided by its Hydro power business units;
  • Electricity and Gas Supply estimates were mostly modelled using administrative data from annual reports, websites and the NGERS; and
  • Households self-extracted water use estimates were based on coefficients of water use (see paragraph 29).



36 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. Supply and use tables illustrate the economic transactions associated with the use of water and the provision of sewerage, drainage and waste services (also referred to as water related services).

37 The monetary section covers:
  • supply of distributed water and water related services in the economy by the following industries: Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Services, Mining, Manufacturing, Electricity and Gas Supply and Other 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.

38 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; and
  • bulk water (both urban and rural).

39 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.

40 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.

41 For national and environmental accounting purposes, the Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Services is considered to provide the service of 'water delivery' rather than being the seller of a product (water).

42 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 WAA.

43 It is difficult to separate the revenue from reuse water with that from distributed mains supply. Estimates on revenue and expenditure on distributed water thus include transactions associated with reuse water.

44 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

45 Data presented in the Monetary Supply and Use section are compiled from a variety of sources. In addition to those used in the Physical water supply and use section the following ABS data were used:
46 Administrative data (including water rates and charges) were also sourced from:
Methods for calculating Monetary Supply and Use

47 The data collected from these sources were collated and aggregated to state and territory level.

48 Industry gross value added:
49 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 ($ per kL) was applied to the volume of water consumed by the households within those service areas.

50 For government:
  • Monetary data for government expenditure and social transfers in kind were sourced from the Australian System of National Accounts as unpublished data.

51 For industries:
  • Revenue and expenditure on water and related services for the water supply industries were sourced from the ABS 2016-17 WSSS, supplemented by administrative data.
  • Information on expenditure on water and related services by other industries was modelled based on information from the ABS 2014-15 EWES, and 2015-16 and 2016-17 Business Turnover data. Where information from company websites and annual/environmental reports are available, that information is used.

52 Water intensity and productivity:
  • Water intensity is referred to as the ratio of physical flow to an economic aggregate while water productivity represents the ratio of economic aggregate to physical flow (SEEA 2014). Water intensity is the inverse of water productivity. These indicators are expressed in the monetary tables as water consumption (ML) by industry (excluding households) per $ million of industry gross value added and $ million of industry gross value added per GL of water used or consumed, respectively.
  • These indicators also focus on the production process and changes in the extent to which natural resources and natural inputs are being used by industries to produce goods and services.
  • 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 from 2008-09 to 2016-17 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.
  • Water intensity and productivity estimates by Industry are presented in data cube 1.

Data Quality and Reliability

53 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) are coherent with data from the Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology National Performance Reports, NSW Department of Primary Industries, and annual/environmental reports for various water providers.

54 Water use estimates for households, industries and governments were based on several ABS surveys and administrative 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.


55 While every effort is made to ensure the accuracy and reliability of estimates, some series are subject to revision as more complete and accurate information becomes available.

56 Information on revisions made to this edition are outlined within the 'Changes in this issue' document attached to this publication.


Data Sources

57 The Gross Value of Irrigated Agricultural Production (GVIAP) was estimated using data from the ABS 2016-17 REACS, 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, 2016-17 (cat. no. 4610.0.55.008)).


58 As noted in Agricultural Commodities, Australia, 2016-17 (cat. no. 7121.0), there was a change in scope for the 2015-16 Agricultural Census to all agricultural businesses with an Estimated Value of Agricultural Operations (EVAO) of $40,000 or greater. This is a change from previous ABS Rural Environment and Agricultural Collections, where a scope of EVAO of $5,000 or greater was used. While the change in scope better aligns with contemporary definitions of an agricultural business and reduces the overall reporting load for smaller agricultural businesses, estimates in the Water Account Australia were modelled to cover the full scope (EVAO of $5,000 and greater) for comparability with previous Water Account outputs.

59 The scope change impacts on all components of GVIAP. Where information is sourced from the Agricultural Census there will be an impact on estimates, including for crops and horticulture where production information is now only collected from businesses with a value of agricultural operations of $40,000 or greater.

60 As a result of the change in scope, the 2015-16 and 2016-17 GVIAP will not be directly comparable to previously published GVIAP outputs.

Method of Calculation

61 The ABS methodology for calculating GVIAP is described in the Information paper: Methods of estimating the Gross Value of Irrigated Agricultural Production (cat. no. 4610.0.55.006).


62 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: