Water resources

Water resources can be categorised according to geological factors and the administrative arrangements used to manage and control their use.

The arrangements governing Australia's water resources vary across regions and jurisdictions. They range from heavily regulated water resources in high demand areas such as the River Murray, through to unregulated water resources in remote areas with little irrigation activity.

For more detailed water resources information, please refer to relevant jurisdiction agencies, with links provided in the map of Australian water resources below.

Consumptive and non-consumptive use

Water resources in Australia are divided between consumptive and non-consumptive use.

Consumptive use means the use of water for private benefit purposes including irrigation, industry, urban and stock and domestic use.

Non-consumptive use is when there is no diversion from or diminishment of resource, for example water used to generate hydroelectricity. Held and planned environmental water is a non-consumptive water use. Held environmental water is water available under a water access right for the benefit of the environment. Planned environmental water is committed in a water plan for achieving environmental outcomes.

The consumptive pool is 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 relevant water resource plan.

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.

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 licensed 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.

As part of its Water Information Program, the Bureau has a range of products  that report on the status of surface water and groundwater resources.

Regulated and unregulated systems

Regulated systems are water resources that 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 that are not controlled through the use of infrastructure to store and release water. They are based solely on seasonal flows. Water can only be accessed once predetermined flow conditions are met. There are commonly a number of restrictions on extraction, e.g. 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.

Reliability

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 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 Water NSW 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