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Water is critical for supporting Australia's physical, social and economic environment. By world standards Australia is a dry continent with few freshwater resources. In some regions the biological condition of the river, wetlands and groundwater dependent ecosystems has been severely impacted by the extraction of large volumes of water for agriculture, household and industrial use.
24.18 WATER SUPPLY AND USE IN THE AUSTRALIAN ECONOMY - 2000-01
Source: Water Account, Australia, 2000-01 (4610.0).
Water consumption by industry
Agriculture was by far the largest consumer of water in 2000-01, accounting for 67% (16,660 GL) of total water use in Australia (graph 24.19, table 24.20). Households were the next highest consumers of water, accounting for 8.8% (2,181 GL) of water use. Total water use in households increased 19% from 1996-97. The average household water use was 115 kilolitres/person in 2000-01. The water supply, sewerage and drainage services industry was also a significant consumer of water, accounting for 7.2% (1,794 GL) of water use, followed by the electricity and gas supply industry which consumed 6.8% (1,688 GL), excluding in-stream water use for hydro-electricity generation. Mining accounted for 1.6% (401 GL) of water use. Metal ore mining (284 GL) and coal mining (72 GL) collectively contributed 89% of water consumption in the mining industry. Manufacturing accounted for 3.5% (866 GL) of the total water consumption in 2000-01. The food, beverage and tobacco industry was the highest user of water within the manufacturing industry with 242 GL used (28% of manufacturing), while the wood and paper products industry contributed 175 GL (or 20%).
New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory combined used the most water - 9,425 GL (or 38% of the total) - and 78% of this was used in agriculture. In Victoria, agriculture accounted for 52% of the total, however, the electricity and gas supply industry also contributed a high proportion (22%) compared with that contributed by other states and territories.
Water use by agriculture
Water used by agriculture includes water applied through irrigation to crops, pastures, or fed to livestock, that has been directly extracted from the environment by farmers (e.g. from bores, on-farm dams, rivers) or supplied by water providers (e.g. irrigation authorities). It excludes the use of rainwater.
Agricultural water use varied between crops and between states and territories. New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory combined were the largest users of water for agriculture accounting for 7,322 GL or 44% of total agricultural water use in 2000-01.
In 2000-01 the livestock, pasture, grains and other agriculture industry (which includes cut flowers, nurseries, turf growing and other commodities) was the largest user of water in agriculture (5,568 GL or 33%) followed by the cotton industry (2,908 GL or 17%), dairy farming (which includes livestock and irrigated pastures and grains for dairy farming purposes) (2,834 GL or 17%) and rice (1,951 GL or 12%) (table 24.21).
Household water use
Water use by households (also referred to as domestic water use) includes water that is used for human consumption (such as for drinking and cooking) as well as water used by households for cleaning or outdoors (such as water for gardens and swimming pools).
In 2000-01 the total water used by households was 2,181 GL, increasing from 1,829 GL in 1996-97 and 1,704 GL in 1993-94. This rise can be attributed in part to an increase of population (6% nationally from 1993-94 to 2000-01) and improved coverage and reporting in 2000-01. Climate plays a significant role in household water use. The majority of household water was used for outdoor purposes (44%), followed by indoor uses, including bathrooms (20%) and toilets (15%) (graph 24.22).
Of the total water used by households in 2000-01, 96% (2,085,768 ML) was supplied by mains and 4% (95,512 ML) of water was from a self-extracted source (i.e. rainwater tanks and direct extraction from surface waterways or groundwater). South Australia has the highest proportion of rainwater tanks (48%) of any state or territory (graph 24.23).
Reuse water is defined as wastewater that may have been treated to some extent and then used again without first being discharged to the environment. Reuse water is supplied mainly by the water supply industry, but may also be supplied by other industries (such as mining and manufacturing). Reuse water supplied by irrigation/rural water providers through regional reuse schemes has also been included.
The use of reuse water has increased almost threefold since 1996-97, although the volume used is still relatively small. In 1996-97 there were 134,424 millilitres (ML) of reuse water used in Australia, which made up less than 1% of total water use in that year. By 2000-01 this volume had increased to 516,563 ML. However, this use still accounted for less than 1% of total water use. A large proportion of reuse water use is sourced from rural/irrigation regional reuse schemes.
The agriculture industry was the largest user of reuse water in 2000-01, accounting for 423,264 ML or 82% of all reuse water used in Australia (graph 24.24). The majority of reuse water used by the agriculture industry was for application to pastures (45%), although rice crops were also significant users (29%).