Water Account, Australia

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The Water Account Australia presents information on the physical and monetary supply and use of water in the Australian economy for 2018-19.

Reference period
2018-19 financial year

Summary Indicators

In 2018-19 another year of low rainfall led to structural change within the agricultural industry driving a decrease in water use. In 2018-19:

  • Average area rainfall across Australia was 352mm, down 20% year on year.
  • Total water use fell to 76,256 GL, down 9% year on year.

Source(s): (a) The Bureau of Meteorology

The low availability of water pushed distributed prices upwards:

  • Households paid an average of $3.29 per kilolitre, up 2% year on year.
  • Industry paid an average of $0.43 per kilolitre, up 48% year on year.

A Note on Unit Pricing

The differences between the cost of water for households and for industry is largely driven by the quality of water consumed. Households require potable water fit for human consumption. Industries predominantly utilise non potable water.

Intensity and per household estimates are shown below to illustrate how usage patterns have changed alongside the pricing changes noted above:

  • The average amount of water used by households has remained steady at 0.19 ML/household.
  • Industry water intensity has decreased to 7.07 ML/ $m GVA, down 20%.

Physical Supply and Use

Self-extracted water 

In 2018-19, the total amount of water extracted from the environment was 65,968 GL. This was a decrease of 7% from the previous year. 

Defining Self-extracted Water

Self-extracted water refers to water that is extracted directly from the environment. Possible sources include surface water (e.g. rivers and lakes), ground water, and desalinated sea water. 

The Electricity and Gas Supply industry is the main driver behind total self-extracted water use. This industry utilises self-extracted water for hydroelectricity generation. In 2018-19 this subdisivion accounted for:

  • 78% of total self-extracted water use, or 51,368 GL, down 4% year on year.
  • The vast majority of this water use is returned to the environment. 

Source(s): (a) Accessible volume in the 305 major dam storages included on the The Bureau of Meteorology Water Storages Dashboard.

The Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Services industry extracted 9,936 GL of water, of which:

  • 8,134 GL was supplied to industries - this includes own use and losses.
  • 1,802 GL was supplied to households.

Other industries extracted the following volumes from the environment:

  • Agriculture extracted 3,113 GL of water.
  • Mining extracted 1,070 GL of water.
  • Manufacturing extracted 367 GL of water.

Distributed water

Distributed water use was down 21% in 2018-19, with a total of 9,963 GL being used.

Defining Distributed Water

Distributed water refers to water transferred from one economic unit to another where an economic transaction occurs. Notable examples include mains water and irrigation channels. It excludes reuse water. 

The Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Services industry supplied over 99% of distributed water. 

Distributed water use is driven by demand from the Agriculture industry. In 2018-19:

  • Agricultural distributed water use decreased by 30% to 5,445 GL. 
  • NSW drove this decrease, down 48% year on year to 2,032 GL.

The decrease in water use was primarily driven by farmers shifting away from water intensive crops like cotton and rice. The following subdivisions capture these decreases:

  • Sheep, beef, cattle, grain growing and other livestock farming, down 42% to 1,596 GL.
  • Other crop growing, down 34% to 1,469 GL. 

Household distributed increased marginally year on year, however NSW saw a marked decline:

  • Australian households used 1,810 GL in 2018-19, up 1% year on year.
  • NSW households used 572 GL, in 2018-19, down 4% year on year. 

Reuse Water

In 2018-19, the supply of reuse water increased to 324 GL.

The key user of reuse water was:

  • Agriculture, using 97 GL. 

Defining Reuse Water

Reuse water represents the transformation of wastewater into another economic product that is distributed throughout the economy. Typically, but not always, reuse water is non-potable.

Return Flows

In 2018-19, the Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Services industry:

  • Released 1,739 GL of water to the environment,
  • Representing 87% of total wastewater collected. 

Defining Return Flows

Return flows represents the return of water from economic units to the environment. 

Monetary Supply and Use

In 2018-19, total expenditure on distributed water was $10.1 billion. Key contributors were: 

  • Households, accounting for 59% at $5.9 billion.
  • Other industries, accounting for 20% at $2.0 billion. 
  • Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing, accounting for 7% at $719 million.

Industry Highlight: Water supply industry

In 2018-19, the Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Services (WSSDS) industry extracted 9,936 GL of water from the environment. This water was sourced from: 

  • Surface water: 9,209 GL or 93% of the total.
  • Groundwater: 595 GL or 6% of the total.
  • Sea water for desalination: 132 GL or 1% of the total.

The WSSDS industry released 1,738 GL of water back into the environment. These return flows were to the following destinations:

  • Surface water: 364 GL or 21% of the total. 
  • Groundwater: 26 GL or 1% of the total.
  • Sea/ Ocean: 1,349 GL or 78% of the total.

Return flows by the WSSDS are typically treated wastewater that has not been converted to reuse water. In 2018-19 the WSSDS:

  • Received 1,993 GL of wastewater, up 2% year on year.
  • Returned a total of 1,739 GL of water to the environment, down 1% year on year. 
  • Supplied 281 GL of reuse water, up 1% year on year. 


The Gross Value of Irrigated Agricultural Production (GVIAP) fell 7% to $16.4 billion in 2018-19. This fall was largely driven by a decline in water availability, particularly in New South Wales and Queensland.

The key contributing commodity groups for GVIAP were:

  • Fruit and Nuts (excluding grapes) at $4.5 billion, up 7%
  • Vegetables at $3.3 billion, down 1%
  • Dairy production at $2.2 billion, relatively steady year on year
  • Grapes at $1.3 billion, up 3%
  • Nurseries, cut flowers, and cultivated turf at $1.3 billion, down 4%
  • Cotton at $1 billion, down 54%

Defining GVIAP

The Gross Value of Irrigated Agricultural Production represents the gross value of agricultural commodities produced with the assistance of irrigation. It does not represent the value added through the application of irrigated water. For more information please refer to the methodology section of this publication. 

The decrease in cotton drove the overall decline in GVIAP. Cotton is dependant on water for irrigation, so in periods of low water availability farmers move away from cotton production.  

Note: GVIAP estimates in 2014-15 utilise a $5,000 EVAO scope. Refer to methodology for more details.


The increase in GVIAP for Fruit and Nuts is also notable as it moves against the prevailing trends of water availability. This category, however, is less able to adapt to changing conditions due to the longer investment timeframes involved in bringing fruit and nut trees to fruition. In wetter years GVIAP naturally decreases as less distributed water needs to be utilised. 

Note: GVIAP and GV estimates in 2014-15 utilise a $5,000 EVAO scope. Refer to methodology for more details.

Changes to this issue

The 2018-19 Water Account, Australia (WAA) implemented the following changes:

  • The flat file (.csv) now includes all aggregate totals present in the monetary and physical supply use tables. 
  • Selected mining subdivisions have been included in the physical supply use tables for states. 
  • Gross Value of Irrigated Agricultural Production data has been included.
  • The agricultural subdivisions of Deer Farming, Other Livestock Farming, and Sheep, Beef Cattle and Grain Growing have been combined. 

In addition standard revisions may be seen in prior years due to:

  • Revisions in source data.

Data downloads

Water Account, Australia 2018-19

Data files

Post-release changes

21 May 2021: Gross Value of Irrigated Agricultural Production, Extended Geography, 2016-17 to 2018-19, data cube added.

Previous catalogue number

This release previously used catalogue number 4610.0

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