Australia’s per capita water use is the fourth highest of the OECD countries, after the United States, Canada and New Zealand. Water consumed for drinking and in our homes and gardens is only a small part of the total water use in Australia (less than 10% of water used in 2000–01). Most of the water consumed in Australia is by the agriculture industry.
In the past, Australians have generally thought of water as a free resource. However, drought and water restrictions in many areas of Australia since 2002, as well as increasing evidence of the adverse effects of increased water use on river health, is changing the way we regard water. The National Water Initiative (NWI) signed by the Australian Government and all state and territory governments, built on the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) framework for water reform signed in 1994. In September 2006, the Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon. John Howard, MP announced the establishment of an Australian Government Office of Water Resources to provide and coordinate policy advice across Commonwealth agencies. It will also oversee implementation of initiatives including the NWI and the $2 billion Australian Government Water Fund which aims to improve water efficiency and environmental outcomes.
This section is divided into four main parts:
- Water use: Agriculture accounted for about two-thirds of total water consumed in 2000–01, most of which (91%) was used for crop and pasture irrigation. Household water use, which includes water for drinking, cooking, cleaning and outdoors, accounted for about 10% of total water consumed in Australia. The majority of household water is used for outdoor purposes (44%), such as water for gardens.
- Water conservation: The recent drought and ensuing water restrictions have firmly focused attention on the need to conserve household water. While mandatory water restrictions in many parts of Australia limited outdoor water use, many Australians have been voluntarily conserving water by adopting water saving practices and installing water saving devices (such as dual flush toilets and reduced flow shower heads). In 2004, 82% of households in Australia used water saving devices and more than 90% of Australians reported taking conservation measures in the garden.
- Water quality: Different uses of water require different standards of water quality. For example, water for producing hydro-electricity or for transportation does not require high standards of purity. However, water for drinking, fishing, and as habitat for aquatic plants and animals require higher levels of water quality. The source of water for household consumption also can have an impact on the water quality. In Australia, more than nine out of ten households (93%) were connected to mains/town water in March 2004. One in ten Australian households sourced their drinking water from a rainwater tank.
- Marine and coastal waters: The marine environment and coast is important for Australia's society, economy and ecology. Many people like to live on or near the coast and take holidays at the beach. Economic benefits flow from marine industries such as shipping, tourism, fisheries, offshore oil and gas. The coastal and marine regions support a large range of species, many of them found only in Australian waters. The state of marine and coastal waters and efforts to preserve the marine environment for the benefit of today's and future generations, are examined.