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Water resources

Water resources are categorised according to geological factors, and to administrative factors used to manage and control their use. This page outlines the different water resource types and administrative arrangements used to manage water use in Australia. The administrative arrangements governing Australia's water resources vary across regions and jurisdictions, ranging from heavily regulated water resources in high demand areas (e.g. the River Murray) through to unregulated water resources in remote areas with little irrigation activity.

Current water resources information for all jurisdictions can be accessed from the map of Australian water resources below.

Consumptive and non-consumptive use

Water resources in Australia are divided between consumptive use and non-consumptive use. Consumptive water use causes diminishment of the source at the point of appropriation, e.g. irrigation. When there is no diversion from or diminishment of the source, water use is defined as non-consumptive, e.g. water use in hydroelectric projects when the water is not diverted away from the natural confines of the river or stream channel.

Environmental flow objectives form part of non-consumptive water use. Environmental flow objectives set the flow level of a water resource required to maintain the health of natural ecosystems.

The consumptive pool The amount of a water resource that can be made available for consumptive use in a particular water resource plan area under the rules of the water resource plan for that water resource plan area.
Source: Water Act 2007
 is available for a range of uses including urban, industrial, rural domestic and irrigation use. Tradeable water rights come from the consumptive pool. Resources in the consumptive pool are available for use in accordance with a range of national, cross-border, state, regional or local rules. For more information see Water management.

Environmental water purchasing

As well as water reserved for environmental flow objectives, additional water is purchased from the consumptive pool for environmental use by the Australian Government and by state and territory governments. See Water programs for more information on Australian Government environmental purchasing programs. See External water market reports for Australian Government water purchasing price information.

Environmental water purchasing is also conducted by non-profit organisations and Aboriginal cultural groups.

Trading zones

Trading zones  Zones established to simplify administration of a trade by setting out the known supply source or management arrangements and the physical realities of relevant supply systems within the zone.
Source: Adapted from Schedule B(i) NWI
were introduced to simplify administration for the delivery and trade of water resources in Australia.

A trading zone profile defines the physical boundaries to, from or within which water may be traded. It contains maps, zone boundaries, zone rules, exchange rates (dependent on location and reliability class, although these are now rare) and products that may be traded within a zone. Trading zones can be defined for different classes of water resources, i.e. unregulated streams, regulated streams, supplemented streams, groundwater systems and licenced runoff harvesting dams.

Surface water and groundwater

Water resources are usually divided into surface water and groundwater. The Australian Water Resources 2005  baseline assessment of water resources undertaken by the National Water Commission mapped the boundaries used by the states and territories to manage and report on surface water and groundwater.

Surface water is divided into 12 drainage divisions, 246 river basins and 340 surface water management areas (SWMAs).

Groundwater is divided into 69 groundwater provinces and 367 groundwater management units (GMUs)

The boundaries usually represent catchment or subcatchment areas but may also reflect state and territory borders. There are also cross-border management arrangements in several locations.

Regulated and unregulated systems

Regulated systems are water resources which have their flows controlled through the use of infrastructure to store and release water. Regulated systems are associated with one or more water storage facilities and distinguished by the degree of reliability attached to them. Within operational constraints, irrigators can determine when water is released from a regulated system and the nature of its use. Depending on the reliability of the water resources, seasonal allocations are set through regular allocation announcements from the relevant authority.

Unregulated systems are water resources which are not controlled through the use of infrastructure to store and release water. Unregulated systems are based solely on seasonal flows and are not backed by storages. Water can only be accessed once predetermined flow conditions are met. The ability to take water from an unregulated source is generally specified by stipulating a number of restrictions on extraction, i.e. maximum daily extraction, extraction timing, 'cease to pump' when there is a minimum passing flow.

Supplemented/unsupplemented water supply in Queensland

Supplemented and unsupplemented are terms used to describe regulated and unregulated systems in Queensland.

Supplemented water supplies are boosted by releases of stored water (e.g. from dams). When this occurs, the reliability of water supplied is affected. This is equivalent to a regulated water supply in other states and territories.

Unsupplemented water supplies are not boosted by releases of stored water. This is equivalent to an unregulated water supply in other states and territories.


Entitlements in regulated systems are categorised by the degree of reliability The frequency with which water allocated under a water access entitlement is able to be supplied in full.
Source: Schedule B(ii) NWI
. Reliability is referred to in some jurisdictions as security, for example 'high security' or 'general security'.

See the water products national terminology table for more details of reliability categories in each jurisdiction.

Map of Australian water resources

Click on the state, territory or the irrigation infrastructure operator (IIO) to go to resource details.

Links to water resources information Western Australia Australia Tasmania Queensland New South Wales Victoria Australian Capital Territory South Australia Northern Territory Gascoyne Water Co-operative Limited Ord Irrigation Co-operative Limited SunWater State Water Corporation Murrumbidgee Irrigation Limited Coleambally Irrigation Co-operative Limited Murray Irrigation Limited Gippsland and Southern Rural Water Goulburn-Murray Rural Water Corporation Grampians Wimmera Mallee Water Corporation Lower Murray Urban and Rural Water Corporation Central Irrigation Trust Harvey Water