Advancing the management of Australia's water resources

Posted 1 July 2007

The Chairman of the National Water Commission, Ken Matthews, and Commissioner Peter Cullen today released the findings of the second stage of the baseline assessment of water resources for the National Water Initiative, Australian Water Resources 2005.

'Australian Water Resources 2005 (AWR 2005) is a baseline measurement or snapshot of Australia's national water resources during 2004-05, reflecting the state of our water resources at the start of the National Water Initiative,' Mr Matthews said.

'Detailed data on water availability, water use and river/wetland health were collected to establish the starting point to measure improvements in water management as a result of the National Water Initiative.

'The project has been a collaborative exercise involving all states and territories and the National Water Commission.'

The level 1 assessment, released last October, delivered an initial assessment of water resource planning and management arrangements.

The level 2 assessment builds on level 1 and provides detailed data, analysis and discussion on the status of Australia's water availability, water use and river and wetland health.

The level 2 report includes integrated surface water and groundwater balances for 51 priority water management areas, including all capital cities, comprehensive statistics on water use in the Australian economy in 2004-05 and a new national framework for assessing river and wetland health.

'This report advances the ability of Australian governments to manage their water in a number of ways,' Professor Cullen said.

'The report shows there is a need for enhanced groundwater and surface water management and assessment, including further mapping and analysis of the extent of groundwater:surfacewater interaction.

'The report recommends that Australian governments agree on a consistent approach to sustainable resource management, including coming to an agreed definition of sustainable yield.

'It provides a new framework for the assessment of river and wetland health, tested successfully in Victoria and Tasmania, which can be applied to surface water management areas to deliver a national overview.'

The report also provides detailed specifications for the Australian Water Resources Information System (AWRIS) which will provide on-going access to annual bio-physical data and water management information for Australian surface water and groundwater management areas.

'This report will be an important resource for Australian governments as we continue to implement the National Water Initiative's the blueprint for water reform in Australia,' Mr Matthews said.

'I would like to thank the various state, territory and Australian Government agencies who have provided their support for the assessment, with data provided from governments essential to the report findings.'

A brochure summarising these finding is available from the National Water Commission and at
The full text of the Level 2 assessment is available at


Key Findings of Australian Water Resources 2005 - Level 2 Assessment

Australian Water Resources 2005 provides a baseline assessment of water availability, water use and river and wetland health in 2004-05, the first year of the National Water Initiative.

Water Availability - Australia's climate is highly variable and water resources are scarce in many areas. Rainfall ranges from less than 200 mm in the deserts of central Australia, to over 2000 mm in some coastal areas in the far north and far south. In 2004-05 rainfall across the country was below average, and only about 10 per cent of rainfall or 292,000 GL became runoff to rivers and streams, or recharge to groundwater aquifers. The total storage capacity of Australia's large dams in 2004-05 was approximately 84,000 GL, and the volume in storage declined over the year from 53 per cent to 48 per cent of total capacity.

Water Use - Total water use in Australia in 2004-05 was nearly 80,000 GL, with about 75 per cent of this water returned to the environment following in-stream uses such as hydroelectric power generation. Consumptive use of water in the Australian economy in 2004-05 was 18,767 GL, with the agriculture sector the largest user (65 per cent), followed by household use (11 per cent). Due to dry conditions and limited water availability, consumptive use was 14 per cent less than was used in 2000-01. Household water use also declined 8 per cent from 2000-01, to a level of 103 kL per person.
River and Wetland Health - Australian Water Resources 2005 has developed a new national framework for the assessment of river and wetland health, that in the future can be applied to deliver a nationally consistent overview. The framework is based on six catchment and river-wetland criteria - physical form, water quality, aquatic biota, hydrological disturbance, fringing zone and catchment disturbance. The new framework builds on, and has been tested against, existing Victorian and Tasmanian approaches, with further trials soon to commence in Queensland.

Level of Water Resource Development - Detailed water balances have been prepared for fifty one representative water management areas across Australia. For these areas, the level of water resource development and use in 2004-05 has been assessed. The results indicate that in 2004-05, of these water management areas: four were overused (consumptive use was greater than sustainable yield) and seventeen had a high level of consumptive use as a proportion of inflows (consumptive use greater than 30 per cent of inflows). Two water management areas (Great Artesian Basin and Mereenie Sandstone - Alice Springs) had consumptive use greater than total annual inflow in 2004-05.

Next steps - Australian Water Resources Information System Specifications have been developed for a new Australian Water Resources Information System (AWRIS), which, when implemented, will enable the more rapid compilation and presentation of future Australian water resource assessments. The Prime Minister's recently announced National Plan for Water Security proposes an expanded role for the Bureau of Meteorology, including implementation of AWRIS and undertaking of future water resource assessments.

Media contact:
Kim Ulrick, NWC Communications Manager - 02 6102 6023 / 0412 786 945


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