Our water supply challenges

Population growth and climate change have accelerated since the Millennium Drought in the early 2000s, creating a new normal for our water supply. Let's talk about the key issues behind securing our water supply now and into the future.

Did you know Melbourne's water storage levels are currently around 60% but have steadily decreased from year to year - even with assistance from Victoria's desalination plant? Get the lowdown on this issue:

 

Our population has grown...

Kids playing drums at Waterwatch Family Festival

Everyone wants to live here! It's a fact that Melbourne’s population has grown substantially in the past twenty years. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Victorian State Government, Melbourne is the fastest growing city in Australia.

We’ve added 1.4 million new residents since 2001 – and we know that over the next 50 years the population of Melbourne and the surrounding region is expected to grow from 4.6 million to almost 8 million. 

Over the same timeframe, Victoria's total population is anticipated to reach over 10 million.

.. meaning water use is rising

Personal water saving actions, more efficient home appliances, and better urban design and planning have lowered use per capita. However, more people means more demand on our water supply and, consequently, our water storage levels.

Our recent growth has seen annual water use rise by 10.7% over the last five years.

We have longer drier periods

There is much more to Melbourne's water story as we head toward another dry summer. Alongside our growing city, our climate is now characterised by longer drier periods, greater temperature extremes and more intense storm events. All these factors dry out the land, affect rainfall patterns and reduce how much water makes it into our storages from rainfall.

See the data for yourself below, or watch our video to understand what we call 'The Sponge Effect':

Annual inflow into storages, 1913-2020.
Annual inflow into storages, 1913-2020. The long-term average decreased from 615 GL/year (1913-96), to 376 GL/year during the Millennium Drought (1997-2009), with a slight increase to 427 GL/yr (1997-2020).

Bushfires increase pressure on water supplies

Firefighter standing in a forest ravaged by bushfires

Hotter, drier conditions also increase the risk of bushfires, placing further pressure on our drinking water supplies.

The majority of our water supply reservoirs are in protected catchments, meaning they are surrounded by natural bushland. That keeps the water cleaner and means less treatment is required to meet our strict health standards, but that bushland is also susceptible to bushfire which can impact water quality and supply and take reservoirs offline in the short term.

In a hotter and drier climate, the risks of bushfire increase, making efficiencies in our entire water supply system even more critical.

All of these factors mean that Melbourne's water supply picture looks different today than it has in the past, and it will continue to evolve.

What are we doing about it?

Melbourne Water sign saying 'Recycled Water in Use'

The water sector works closely together with the State Government to plan for and manage these changes.

Melbourne Water and the water retailers will continue to:

  • recycle and reuse more wastewater for things like agriculture and firefighting
  • capture and reuse more stormwater for watering our parks and sporting fields 
  • support the design of a more water-efficient city.

Desalinated water will continue to be a key part of our water supply, and of course all Melburnians have their role to play, continuing to be water wise in our everyday lives.

Last updated:
10 August 2021