Australia’s water use highest in years

source: Australian Bureau of Statistics

Australian water consumption peaked at just under 20,000 gigalitres – or 20 billion litres – in 2012-13, the largest water use measured since the start of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) annual water account series in 2008-09.

As in previous years the agriculture industry was the largest consumer of water in Australia, but this year their use was up considerably to just under 13 billion litres.

This is up by over a third on 2011-12 consumption which was around 9.5 billion litres.

“Agricultural water use represents 65 per cent of Australia’s total water consumption, with most being used in irrigation,” said Steven May from the ABS.

“Water use in agriculture was most notable in New South Wales, where consumption increased by over half on the previous year – from four billion litres to over six billion, or more than doubling from the 2010-11 figure of three billion litres.

“This sort of increase reflects farm management decisions based on rainfall patterns, river levels and overall dam storage.

“While 2012-13 was a drier than average year, good water levels in the dams from the previous wetter than average years encouraged farmers to increase water application rates – going from an average 3.8 million litres per hectare in 2011-12 to 4.7 in 2012-13 – almost a 25 per cent increase.

“New South Wales’ agricultural water use was larger than the total agricultural use of the next three biggest water using states – Victoria, Queensland and South Australia – combined, at just under six billion litres.

“The consumption of all other industries combined was just over five billion litres, less than half the amount of the agriculture industry, while household use was around 1.9 billion litres.

“In 2012-13 Australian households spent more than $5 billion dollars on water, paying an average of $2.97 per thousand litres.

“While agriculture’s cost was just seven cents per thousand litres, there are often considerable differences in water quality as well as the costs of treatment and supply for kitchen tap water compared to water for irrigation,” said Mr May.

Further details can be found in Water Account, Australia 2012-13 (cat. no. 4610.0) available for free download from the ABS website (

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