Overview of state and trends of inland water


What has changed since 2011?

  • There has been significant variation in surface-water and groundwater conditions, largely in response to year-on-year variations in weather and changeable climatic conditions.
  • Agriculture, particularly irrigated agriculture, remains the greatest consumer of water. Urban water consumption has shown multiyear rises after declining or fluctuating for most of the past decade.
  • The local water quality in the Murray–Darling Basin has noticeably improved.
  • New data analyses show our groundwater resources to be mostly in poor condition. Although the condition of some areas remains stable, others are deteriorating.
  • The functioning of ecological processes and the condition of key species in our inland waters are generally poor in areas of intensive pressure and use, and good in other areas.

State and trends

National water storage levels varied from above 80 per cent in 2011 to below 50 per cent in 2015. State-level variations have ranged from above 75 per cent to below 45 per cent for New South Wales and Tasmania, whereas South Australia’s water storage has remained consistently between 80 and 100 per cent.

Since SoE 2011, local improvements have been seen in some water quality parameters in the Murray–Darling Basin. Basin streamflows in early 2016 were mostly around average in southern and central areas, with a mix of above and below average flows in the north.

For the north-east and the south-east coast (New South Wales), water quality is considered poor. Similarly, the majority of sites on the south-east coast (Victoria) are in moderate to poor condition. For the south-west coast (Western Australia), the condition is very poor.

The state and trends of ecological processes and key species populations in inland waters range from very poor across the Murray–Darling Basin, to poor to good and stable for the south-east and south-west regions, and good for most of the rest of the country.

Groundwater systems are important for providing water resources, and are subject to the pressures of climate, development and growth. Groundwater, and associated groundwater-dependent ecosystems, are also important and often overlooked components of inland water ecosystems. In most cases, the condition of Australia’s groundwater is poor, reflecting a long history of use. Increases in groundwater recharge above long-term values, largely because of land-cover changes, have raised groundwater levels and produced dryland salinity.

Drainage of acid sulfate soils has acidified local waterways and caused ecological damage, including lasting impacts on estuarine and marine-based fisheries, particularly shellfish.

Jackson WJ, Argent RM, Bax NJ, Bui E, Clark GF, Coleman S, Cresswell ID, Emmerson KM, Evans K, Hibberd MF, Johnston EL, Keywood MD, Klekociuk A, Mackay R, Metcalfe D, Murphy H, Rankin A, Smith DC, Wienecke B (2016). Overview: Overview of state and trends of inland water. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra, https://soe.environment.gov.au/theme/overview/inland-water/topic/overview-state-and-trends-inland-water, DOI 10.4226/94/58b65510c633b