Water Account, Australia

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Presents information on the physical and monetary supply and use of water in the Australian economy.

Reference period
2020-21 financial year

Key statistics

In 2020-21, a year of higher rainfall across Australia led to an increase in irrigation by the agricultural industry, driving an increase in overall water consumption.

  • Total water consumption by industries and households rose by 25% to 13,874 GL (from 11,120 GL in 2019-20).
  • Agricultural water use increased by 37% to 9,978 GL.
  • Household water use decreased by less than half a per cent to 1,808 GL.
  • Sea water used for desalination fell by 18%, following a 23% increase in major dam storages.

Source(s): (a) Bureau of Meteorology

The increase in availability of water eased the pressure on water prices:

  • Households paid an average of $3.42 per kilolitre, down 3% year on year.
  • Industry paid an average of $0.30 per kilolitre, down 25% 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.

Industry water intensity and water use 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 remained steady at 0.18 ML/household. 
  • Industry water intensity increased from 5.99 to 7.37 ML/$m GVA.

Physical supply and use

Self-extracted water 

In 2020-21, the total volume of self-extracted water used was 62,346 GL, a decrease of 8% from the previous year. 

The Electricity, gas, water and waste services division is the main driver behind total self-extracted water use. In 2020-21 this division accounted for 93% of total self-extracted water use, or 57,911 GL, down 9% year on year. This industry division includes self-extracted water used for hydroelectricity generation - the vast majority of water used for hydroelectricity is returned directly to the environment. 

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

The total volume of water extracted from the environment for supply to others (distributed water) in 2020-21 was 11,782 GL, of which:

  • 9,980 GL was supplied to industries (this includes own use by the Water supply, sewerage and drainage services industry, and losses)
  • 1,802 GL was supplied to households.

Other industries extracted the following volumes directly from the environment:

  • Agriculture extracted 2,809 GL of water, an increase of 4% from 2019-20
  • Mining extracted 1,231 GL of water, an increase of 9%
  • Manufacturing extracted 264 GL of water, a decrease of less than 1%.

Distributed water

Distributed water use was up by 30% in 2020-21, with a total of 11,782 GL used.

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, which used 60% of all distributed water in 2020-21:

  • Agricultural distributed water use increased by 57% from 2019-20 to 7,093 GL.

The increase in distributed water use was primarily driven by farmers returning to water-intensive crops such as cotton and rice, with the wetter conditions experienced in 2020-21. The following Agriculture industry subdivisions capture these increases:

  • Sheep, beef, cattle, grain growing and other livestock farming, up 191% to 2,917 GL.
  • Other crop growing, up 49% to 1,533 GL. 

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

  • Australian households used 1,802 GL in 2020-21, down slightly from 1,809 GL in 2019-20.

Reuse water

In 2020-21, the supply of reuse water decreased by 4%, to 297 GL.

The key users of reuse water were:

  • Water supply, sewerage and drainage services, using 85 GL, up by 4% from 2019-20
  • Agriculture, using 76 GL, down by 11%
  • Manufacturing, using 25 GL, up by 9%.

Return flows

In 2020-21, return flows of water to the environment (the majority of which was treated wastewater) from the Water supply, sewerage and drainage services industry:

  • increased to 1,864 GL, up by 8% from 2019-20,
  • 80% of which were to the ocean/sea. 

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 required. 

In 2020-21, total expenditure on distributed water by industry and households was $9.2 billion. Key contributors were: 

  • Households at $6.2 billion, a 3% decrease from 2019-20
  • 'Other industries' at $1.7 billion, a 10% increase
  • Agriculture, forestry and fishing at $0.6 billion, a 9% increase.

Water supply industry highlight

In 2020-21, the Water supply, sewerage and drainage services (WSSDS) industry extracted 11,755 GL of water from the environment. This water was sourced from: 

  • Surface water: 10,916 GL or 93% of the total
  • Groundwater: 525 GL or 4% of the total
  • Sea water for desalination: 314 GL or 3% of the total.

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

In 2020-21 the WSSDS industry received 2,168 GL of wastewater. Once treated, a large proportion of wastewater is either supplied to industry and households as reuse water or returned to the environment as return flows. In 2020-21:

  • 253 GL of reuse water was supplied to industry and households, down 4% from 2019-20
  • 1,864 GL of water was returned to the environment, up 8% 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 losses during the treatment process (including evaporation) and stocks of water not yet released. 

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

  • Surface water: 346 GL or 19% of the total
  • Groundwater: 29 GL or 2% of the total
  • Sea/ocean: 1,490 GL or 80% of the total.

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

Gross value of irrigated agricultural production (GVIAP)

GVIAP at a national level increased by 14% to $18.9 billion in 2020-21. With an increase in water availability farmers shifted to more water-intensive crops like cotton and rice.

The key contributing commodity groups for GVIAP were:

  • fruit and nuts (excluding grapes) at $5.8 billion, up 17% from 2019-20
  • vegetables at $3.6 billion, up 5%
  • dairy production at $2.1 billion, down 8%.

Notably, cotton showed an increase of 439% in GVIAP, from 0.2 to $1.3 billion, while rice increased by 351% to $0.2 billion.

State and Territory contribution to GVIAP, 2020-21 ($b)

Loading map...

This map presents state and territory contributions to national GVIAP for 2020-21 ($b).

- New South Wales ($4.14b)

- Victoria ($5.24b)

- Queensland ($4.74b)

- South Australia ($2.37b)

- Western Australia ($1.03b)

- Tasmania ($1.27b)

- Northern Territory ($0.12b)

- Australian Capital Territory ($0.00b)


GVIAP in the Murray Darling Basin (MDB) increased by 31% to $8.4 billion in 2020-21. In terms of national contribution to GVIAP the MDB made up 44% of the total in 2020-21, up from 39% in 2019-20. 

The key contributing commodity groups for GVIAP in the MDB in 2020-21 were:

  • fruit and nuts (excluding grapes) at $2.6 billion, up 18% from 2019-20
  • grapes at $1.3 billion, up 9%
  • cotton at $1.2 billion, up 541%.

Notably, GVIAP for rice in the MDB increased by 409% to $0.17 billion.

Changes to this issue

The 2020-21 Water Account, Australia (WAA) implemented the following changes:

  • Revisions in source data.

Data downloads

Water Account, Australia

Data files

Previous catalogue number

This release previously used catalogue number 4610.0

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