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 2019-20.

Reference period
2019-20 financial year

Summary Indicators

In 2019-20 total water use remained stable, with industry use declining while the amount of water used to generate hydroelectricity increased.  With all hydroelectricity water use returned to the river system this led to a decline in Australian water consumption. 

  • Total water use remained stable at 77,367 GL. 
  • Total water consumption fell to 11,231 GL.
  • Average area rainfall across Australia was 347mm, stable year on year.


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

The low availability of water continued to push distributed prices upwards:

  • Households paid an average of $3.46 per kilolitre, up 3% year on year.
  • Industry paid an average of $0.46 per kilolitre, up 24% year on year.

A Note on Unit Pricing

The differences between the cost of water for households and for industry is driven by a number of factors, including water quality. For example households require potable water fit for human consumption while 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 fallen to 0.18 ML/household. 
  • Industry water intensity has decreased to 6.15 ML/$m GVA.

Physical Supply and Use

Self-extracted water 

In 2019-20, the total amount of water extracted from the environment was 67,996 GL. This was an increase of 3% 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, gas, water and waste services division is the main driver behind total self-extracted water use. This industry utilises self-extracted water for hydroelectricity generation. In 2019-20 this division accounted for:

  • 94% of total self-extracted water use, or 63,658 GL, up 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 9,031 GL of water, of which:

  • 7,230 GL was supplied to industries - this includes own use and losses.
  • 1,801 GL was supplied to households.

Other industries extracted the following volumes from the environment:

  • Agriculture extracted 2,746 GL of water.
  • Mining extracted 1,100 GL of water.
  • Manufacturing extracted 363 GL of water.

Distributed water

Distributed water use was down 15% in 2019-20, with a total of 9,059 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 2019-20:

  • Agricultural distributed water use decreased by 24% to 4,484 GL.

The decrease in distributed water use was primarily driven by farmers continuing to shift 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 41% to 989 GL.
  • Other crop growing, down 30% to 1,027 GL. 

Household distributed use remained stable, however there was variability across states and territories:

  • Australian households used 1,809 GL in 2019-20.

Reuse Water

In 2019-20, the supply of reuse water decreased 4%, to 312 GL.

The key user of reuse water was:

  • Agriculture, using 86 GL, down 12%. 

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 2019-20, the Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Services industry:

  • Released 1,720 GL of water to the environment,
  • Representing 83% of total wastewater collected. 

Defining Return Flows

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

Monetary Supply and Use

A Note on Timing

The Water Account is improving the timeliness of its release window. This means that the following items were not available for inclusion at publication and are not included in totals:

  1. Taxes and Subsidies
  2. Imports and Exports
  3. Social Benefits Paid in Kind

These items will be updated in the next release and are available on request if needed. 

In 2019-20, total expenditure by industry and households on distributed water was $9.6 billion. Key contributors were: 

  • Households at $6.3 billion.
  • Other industries at $1.9 billion. 
  • Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing at $590 million.

Industry Highlight: Water supply industry

In 2019-20, the Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Services (WSSDS) industry extracted 9,031 GL of water from the environment. This water was sourced from: 

  • Surface water: 8,073 GL or 89% of the total.
  • Groundwater: 573 GL or 6% of the total.
  • Sea water for desalination: 385 GL or 4% of the total.

The use of desalinated water increased 193% year on year.

In 2019-20 the WSSDS received 2,064 GL of wastewater. Once treated this water is supplied to industry and households as reuse water or returned to the environment as return flows. In 2019-20:

  • 267 GL of reuse water was supplied, down 6% year on year. 
  • 1,720 GL of water was returned to the environment, up 4% year on year. 

Note: The volume of wastewater received is typically greater than the volume of reuse water and return flows combined. This is due to natural losses (evaporation) and stocks of water not yet released. 

The return flows to the environment went to the following destinations:

  • Surface water: 287 GL or 17% of the total. 
  • Groundwater: 26 GL or 2% of the total.
  • Sea/Ocean: 1,408 GL or 82% of the total.

(a) Return flows represents the flows of water from industries and households to the environment

Gross Value of Irrigated Agricultural Production (GVIAP)

Defining GVIAP

GVIAP 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. 

GVIAP at a national level remained steady at $16.5 billion in 2019-20. Water availability remained low resulting in a continued shift away from water intensive crops like cotton and rice.

The key contributing commodity groups for GVIAP were:

  • Fruit and nuts (excluding grapes) at $5 billion, up 10%.
  • Vegetables at $3.5 billion, up 4%.
  • Dairy production at $2.3 billion, up 4%.
  • Grapes at $1.4 billion, up 9%.
  • Nurseries, cut flowers, and cultivated turf at $1.3 billion, up 1%.

Notably cotton continued to decline, falling another 77% to $0.25 billion.

State and Territory Contribution to GVIAP, 2019-20 ($b)

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This map presents state and territory contributions to national GVIAP for 2019-20 ($b).

- New South Wales ($2.9b)

- Victoria ($5.17b)

- Queensland ($4.27b)

- South Australia ($1.91b)

- Western Australia ($1.07b)

- Tasmania ($1.11b)

- Northern Territory ($0.09b)

- Australian Capital Territory ($0.0b)


GVIAP in the Murray Darling Basin (MDB) decreased 12% to $6.4 billion in 2019-20.  In terms of national contribution to GVIAP the MDB made up 39% of the total in 2019-20, down from 44% 2018-19. 

Changes to this issue

The 2019-20 Water Account, Australia (WAA) implemented the following changes:

  • Monetary use estimates for the Mining (Division B), Manufacturing (Division C), and Electricity supply, Gas supply and waste services industries (Subdivisions 26, 27 and 29) have a change in methodology. This change improves the consistency between the monetary and physical accounts in the WAA. The updated methodology has resulted in changes to the previously published estimates.  For a summary of this methodology refer to the Methodology page.
  • National accounts monetary items (Taxes and Subsidies, Imports and Exports, Social Benefits Paid in Kind) were not available at publication.
  • Estimates for distributed use in the Agricultural division for the Northern Territory are now calculated using the Rural Environment and Agricultural Commodities Survey (REACS) replacing the Water, Supply and Sewerage Services (WSSS) collection.
  • Return flows in the Manufacturing division in Northern Territory have been removed.

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

  • Revisions in source data.

Data downloads

Water Account, Australia 2019-20

Data files

Previous catalogue number

This release previously used catalogue number 4610.0

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