Water Account, Australia

Latest release

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

Reference period
2021-22 financial year

Key statistics

In 2021-22:

  • National water consumption by industries and households increased by less than half a percent to 13,449 GL (from 13,415 GL in 2020-21)
  •  Water use by the Agriculture, forestry and fishing industry increased by 3% to 9,981 GL, driven by high water availability in New South Wales and Queensland
  • Household water use decreased by 2% to 1,779 GL
  • Sea water used for desalination fell by 5% and groundwater use fell by 9%, following a 16% increase in major dam storages.

a. Sourced from the Bureau of Meteorology.

Despite an increase in water availability, household water prices rose across most States and Territories:

  • Households paid an average of $3.43 per kilolitre, up just 0.6% from 2020-21.
  • Industry paid an average of $0.31 per kilolitre, down 0.8% from 2020-21.

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 fell by 3%, from 181 to 175 kL per household. 
  • Industry water intensity decreased from 6.90 to 6.65 ML/$m GVA.

Physical supply and use

Self-extracted water 

In 2021-22, the total volume of self-extracted water used was 66,205 GL, an increase of 3% from the previous year:

  • 62,582 GL, or 95%, was self-extracted surface water
  • 3,249 GL, or 5%, was self-extracted groundwater
  • 374 GL, or less than 1%, was self-extracted sea water for desalination.

The Electricity, gas, water and waste services industry division is the main driver behind total self-extracted water use. In 2021-22, this division used 61,752 GL, up 3% year on year, accounting for 93% of Australia's self-extracted water use. 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. 

a. accessible volume in the 305 major dam storages included on the Bureau of Meteorology Water Storages Dashboard.

Of the 66,205 GL of water extracted from the environment in 2021-22, 11,930 GL was extracted for the purpose of supplying to others (distributed water), of which:

  • 10,158 GL was supplied to industries (this includes own use by the Water supply, sewerage and drainage services industry, and distribution losses)
  • 1,773 GL was supplied to households.

Key industries extracted the following volumes directly from the environment:

  • Agriculture, forestry and fishing extracted 2,555 GL of water, a decrease of 9% from 2020-21
  • Mining extracted 1,411 GL of water, an increase of 5%
  • Manufacturing extracted 363 GL of water, a decrease of 6%.

Distributed water

Distributed water use increased by 5% in 2021-22, with a total of 11,930 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 and includes water from irrigation suppliers and paid river water allocations. In 2021-22, the Agriculture, forestry and fishing industry accounted for 61% of all distributed water used. Distributed water use for this industry increased by 8% in 2021-22, to 7,336 GL.

Manufacturing used 237 GL of distributed water in 2021-22, a decrease of 3% from 2020-21, while Mining used 93 GL of distributed water in 2021-22, a decrease of 14% from 2020-21.

a. Does not include the Electricity and gas supply or Water supply, sewerage and drainage service industries.

The increased use of distributed water for agriculture in 2021-22 was driven by good seasonal weather outlooks, which encouraged farmers to ramp up production of water-intensive crops, specifically cotton and rice production. 

In 2021-22:

  • New South Wales used 44% of all distributed water used by Agriculture, forestry and fishing
  • New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland combined accounted for 91% of all distributed water used by Agriculture, forestry and fishing.
2.4 Agriculture, forestry and fishing, water use by source, 2021-22 at National, State and Territory levels
Distributed water (GL)Self-extracted surface water (GL)Self-extracted groundwater (GL)
New South Wales3,227289370
South Australia28835351
Western Australianp48170
Northern Territorynp847
Australian Capital Territorynp0.20.0

np not available for publication

Household distributed water use decreased by 2% in 2021-22, driven by 16 GL declines in both New South Wales and Queensland, despite smaller increases in Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Tasmania.

  • Australian households used 1,773 GL of supplied/distributed water in 2021-22, down slightly from 1,803 GL in 2020-21.
  • Households in New South Wales accounted for 30% of all household water use.

Reuse water

In 2021-22, the supply of reuse water increased nationally by 8%, to 321 GL.

The key users of reuse water were:

  • Total Electricity, gas, water and waste services, using 112 GL, up by 24% from 2020-21
  • Agriculture, forestry and fishing, using 90 GL, up by 8%
  • Manufacturing, using 26 GL, up by 1%.

Return flows

In 2021-22, return flows of water to the environment by the Water supply, sewerage and drainage services industry (the majority of which was treated wastewater):

  • increased to 2,108 GL, up by 13% from 2020-21,
  • over three quarters (78%) of which were discharged to the ocean/sea. 

Monetary supply and use

In 2021-22, total expenditure on distributed water was $10 billion, an increase of 2% on 2020-21. Key contributors were: 

  • Households at $6.1 billion, a decrease of 1% from 2020-21
  • Other industries at $1.8 billion, a 9% increase
  • Agriculture, forestry and fishing at $0.7 billion, a 26% increase.

Water supply industry highlight

In 2021-22, the Water supply, sewerage and drainage services (WSSDS) industry extracted 11,898 GL of water from the environment. This water was sourced from: 

  • Surface water: 11,106 GL or 93% of the total
  • Groundwater: 510 GL or 4% of the total
  • Sea water for desalination: 283 GL or 2% of the total.

In 2021-22 the WSSDS industry received 2,420 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 2021-22:

  • 276 GL of reuse water was supplied to industry and households, up 9% from 2020-21
  • 2,108 GL of water was returned to the environment, up 13% year on year. 

Note: the volume of wastewater received/collected 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: 416 GL, or 20% of the total
  • Groundwater: 20 GL, or 1% of the total
  • Sea/ocean: 1,642 GL, or 78% of the total.
  1. Return flows represents the flows of water from industry and households to the environment.
  2. Return flows to groundwater (not visible) is 20 GL.

Changes to this issue

The 2021-22 Water Account, Australia (WAA) implemented the following changes:

Estimates of the Gross Value of Irrigated Agricultural Production (GVIAP) were not included in this edition. The quality of responses to the Rural Environment and Agricultural Commodities Survey (REACS), 2021-22, was lower than required to produce a full set of agricultural statistics. Consequently, ABS agricultural publications, with respect to the 2021-22 reference period, contain a reduced set of agricultural commodity area and production statistics at the national, state and territory levels. In addition, agricultural water use statistics (including GVIAP) for the 2021-22 financial year are not yet available, and the Water Use on Australian Farms publication was not published. In early 2023 the ABS released an Information paper outlining further detail about the future production of official agricultural statistics.

There have been several changes to the presentation of data in the Physical Supply and Use Tables (PSUTs):

  • Self-extracted water use has been disaggregated into three separate categories - ‘Surface water’, ‘Groundwater’ and ‘Sea water for desalination’.
  • Water use and Water consumption are presented at industry level (see Methodology section for definitions).
  • Industry Division A - Agriculture, forestry and fishing - division-level data only is presented. In previous editions of the WAA, a detailed breakdown of Agriculture was presented, however, due to changes to the ABS agricultural survey program (described above) this was not possible for 2021-22. Further to this, data quality for the industry subdivisions Aquaculture; Forestry and logging; Fishing, hunting and trapping; and Agriculture, forestry, and fishing support services, the estimates for which are all modelled, was deemed not acceptable for publication. Therefore, total 'Agriculture, forestry and fishing' is presented at an aggregate level.
  • Industry divisions B (Mining) and C (Manufacturing) were previously presented in WAA at subdivision level (at the national level), however, due to data quality and confidentiality issues, estimates for these divisions are presented at total division level – 'Mining' and 'Manufacturing'.

Some revisions in source data, as well as updates to models used to produce some estimates, has led to minor revisions to the WAA time series dating back to 2014-15.

Data downloads

Data files

Previous catalogue number

This release previously used catalogue number 4610.0

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