4613.0 - Australia's Environment: Issues and Trends, 2006  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 10/11/2006   
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Contents >> Water trends >> Water conservation



Household water use and conservation has been a widely discussed issue over the last four years due to drought conditions and water restrictions in many parts of Australia.

In most of eastern Australia, continued rainfall deficiencies since 2002 combined with record temperatures in 2005 have seen water storage levels in dams and reservoirs remain far below their pre-drought levels into September 2006.

Water levels in Warragamba Dam, which provides about 80% of Sydney's water, fell from 76% capacity at the end of January 2002 down to 42% in early 2005 and were still around that level in September 2006. Melbourne's and Canberra's water storages were still less than half full in September 2006. In Perth and south-east Queensland, they were less than one-third full. Consequently, water restrictions that were imposed in 2002, still applied in 2006 in many areas of Australia.

In 2004, the majority of Australian households (82%) reported conserving water by installing a water conservation device, such as a dual flush toilet. Nearly half (47%) reported undertaking a water conservation practice. Having full loads when washing (18%) and taking shorter showers (18%) were the most popular actions.

Nearly three-quarters of households (74%) had dual flush toilets in 2004, compared with 64% in 2001. Reduced flow shower heads were installed in 44% of households (up from 35% in 2001).

Australia introduced the first scheme of its kind in the world for water efficiency labelling. Launched in 2004, the Water Efficiency Labelling Scheme (WELS) requires mandatory water efficiency labels on all shower heads, washing machines, toilets, dishwashers, urinals and some types of taps. An eight minute shower with a water efficient showerhead uses less than 72 litres, or about 40% less water than a regular shower head. New water efficient dual flush toilets generally use less than four litres per flush, a third of that for a normal single flush toilet (1).

Graph: Water Conservation Devices Used.
Source: Environmental Issues: People's Views and Practices, 2004 (4602.0).


Water restrictions since 2002 have affected households primarily by limiting their use of water in the garden. Outdoor water use (gardens and swimming pools) is the single largest component of domestic water consumption (44% in 2000–01).

In 2004, more than 90% of Australian households with gardens reported conserving water in the garden.

Households reported an increase in the use of recycled water on the garden in 2004 (18%, up from 11% in 2001), planting native shrubs or trees (17%, up from 10%) and not watering the garden at all (10%, up from 6%). The states and territories that substantially increased their use of recycled water on the garden since 2001 included New South Wales (9% to 19%); Victoria (13% to 23%); and the Australian Capital Territory (7% to 26%).

One-quarter of households reported watering either early in the morning or late in the evening to conserve water in the garden. Also, the use of hand watering instead of a sprinkler system increased from 66% to 71% from 2001 to 2004. There was a corresponding decrease in the use of fixed and movable sprinklers (from 28% in 2001 down to 15% in 2004 for movable sprinklers, and 31% down to 22% for fixed sprinkler systems). This is likely to be attributable mainly to water restrictions on use of sprinklers and restricted watering times.

Five per cent of Australian households relied on rainwater tanks as their main source of water for gardening. In comparison, 85% used mains or town water as their main source of garden water. This figure was 90% for households in capital cities and 78% for all other households. In Western Australia, the use of mains or town water was lowest where nearly a quarter of all households (24%) relied on bore/well water for garden use.

Graph: Water Conservation Measures in the Garden
(a) Not collected in 1998.
Source: Environmental Issues: People's Views and Practices, 2004 (cat. no. 4602.0).


1. WELS web site http://search.waterrating.com.au, last viewed 28 September 2006.

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