Impacts of Anthropogenic Activities, Water Use and Consumption on Water Resources and Flooding

Australia: State of the Environment Technical Paper Series (Inland Waters), Series 1
Peter Crabb
Department of the Environment, 1997
ISBN 0 642 25284 X

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About the Technical Paper

The prime anthropogenic pressures on Australia's water resources are the use and consumption of water and the use of land. The major user of water in Australia is irrigation, which accounts for between 70 and 74 per cent of the total. Domestic water use is the next major user, with garden watering accounting for up to 50 per cent of total domestic use.

The current state of Australia's water resources is a consequence of the massive program of river regulation since 1950 in an attempt to 'drought-proof' Australia. There are close to 450 dams over 10 metres in height, plus numerous regulatory structures. The large number of farm dams also has impacted on streamflow. In Victoria alone, it is estimated that there are more than 300 000 farm dams.

However, despite all of this construction it is not possible to drought proof the continent or control floods. Droughts and floods are a regular feature of the Australian environment. Several reservoirs in NSW had continually low levels during the 1994/95 drought. Flooding such as that which occurred at Nyngan in 1990 resulted in property and stock losses of over $250 million.

The response to the state of Australia's water resources has shifted from development towards management, to reduce consumption and improve efficiency of water use. A market for water use in agriculture is being created with pricing changing to more accurately reflect costs of provision. Domestic water use is being targeted with promotion of appliances such as dual flush toilets. However, there are inadequate data to provide satisfactory indicators of change in water resource use. As a minimum, a new national survey of water resources is required.