4610.0 - Water Account for Australia, 1993-94 to 1996-97  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 03/05/2000   
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May 03, 2000
Embargoed: 11:30 AM (AEST)

Australians Use More Than 1 Million Litres of Fresh Water Per Person Each Year

Despite living on the driest continent on earth, Australians used more than 1 million litres of fresh water per person during 1996-97 according to a report released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) today.

Of the 22,186 Gigalitres (GL) consumed in 1996-97 in Australia, agriculture accounted for 15,502 GL (70%), households; 1, 829 GL (8 percent), water supply, sewerage and drainage services; 1,706 GL (8 percent), electricity and gas; 1,308 GL (6 percent), manufacturing; 728 GL (3 percent) and mining; 570 GL (3 percent). (One Gigalitre is 1 billion litres.)

Agriculture consumed the vast majority of the water, but the economic return per unit of water used was relatively low.

The agricultural sector earned $588 of industry gross product per megalitre (ML) water used. (One megalitre is 1 million litres.) In comparison industry gross product for manufacturing ranged from $32,000/ML to $680,000/ML and service industries ranged from $2317/ML to $1.1million/ML.

Irrigated production accounted for 26 percent of the total gross value of production from agriculture. Vegetables and fruit returned the highest gross value per ML water used at $1760/ML and $1460/ML respectively, while rice production returned the lowest gross value/ML water used of $189/ML.

A breakdown of the agriculture sector showed pasture, livestock, grains and other agriculture (mostly irrigated pastures) accounted for 8,795 GL, cotton industry 1,841 GL, rice industry 1,643 GL and sugar industry 1,236 GL. Rice was the thirstiest crop and used the most water per hectare of irrigated area, followed by grapes and fruit. Cotton was the agricultural sector which used the least water per hectare of irrigated area.

An analysis of figures in the report shows the industry that used the most water for each full time employee was water supply, sewerage and drainage services, although it should be noted this included a lot of water released to maintain environmental flows. Of the remaining industry sectors, agriculture used the most water per full time employee, followed by electricity and gas, mining, manufacturing and service industries.

Water used for hydro-electric generation and discharged directly back to existing surface waters was listed in a separate category to water consumed. Water in this category totalled 46,509 GL. The total surface and groundwater extracted from the Australian environment for use in 1996-97 was estimated at 68,703 GL which was more than 3 million litres per person.

Approximately 52 percent of water consumed in Australia was supplied via mains infrastructure, with the remaining 48 percent extracted directly from the environment for use. At a state level, NSW and ACT (8,716 GL, 39 percent) consumed the most (the ACT accounted for approximately 1 percent of the NSW-ACT totals) followed by Victoria (6,687 GL, 30 percent), Queensland (3,680 GL, 17%), WA (1,424 GL, 6 percent), SA (1.261 GL, 6 percent), Tasmania (314 GL, 1 percent) and NT (103 GL, 0 percent).

Average water consumption per household was measured in kilolitres (1kL is 1,000 litres) and was highest in the NT (500 kL/year), followed by Queensland (340 kL/year), WA (320 kL/year), with NSW and ACT (237 kL/year), Victoria (227 kL/year) and SA (218 kL/year). Tasmania had the lowest mean household usage of 176 kL/year.

International comparative estimates published by the World Resources Institute for 1995 showed Australia ranked second in per capita water use. Only North Americans, who used almost 2 million L/person consumed more. Central Americans consumed about 900,000 L/person, Europeans consumed about 600,000 L/person, Asians about 550,000 L/person, South Americans about 350,000 L/person and Africans consumed about 200,000 L/person.

Natural Resource Accounts

Australia is the driest continent excluding Antarctica and very little of the rain that does fall, finds its way into flowing rivers. Major agricultural and urban areas of Australia have a limited supply of water. Ineffective and inappropriate use of water can result in environmental problems of national significance.

Water Account for Australia (Cat. 4610.0) is the first attempt anywhere in the world at producing an environmental account for water and quantifying these issues on a national level.

The System of National Accounts (SNA) has historically had little regard for environmental matters. An important aim of environmental accounting is to assess the environmental sustainability of economic activities and economic growth by quantifying any depletion and degradation of a natural resource. An environmental account links the activities and uses of a resource to changes in the natural resource base and other economic data.

The Water Account for Australia is part of a series of environmental accounts which includes energy (cat. no. 4604.0), minerals (cat. no. 4608.0) and fish (cat. no. 4607.0).

Further information on Australia's water supply, use, consumption, and related economic information is presented in the report Water Account for Australia, 1993-94 to 1996-97 (cat. no. 4610.0).

A summary of the main findings are available on this site. If you wish to purchase a copy of this publication, contact the ABS Bookshop in your capital city.