Be wise on water this winter

By Gabrielle Stannus

Water storages in the greater Sydney, Melbourne and Perth regions are hovering at half-capacity. According to the Bureau of Meteorology, warmer days and low rainfall may be likely across south-east Australia for the remainder of 2019 1, 2 . Now is the time for nurseries and garden centres in these areas to start doing more with less water.

Greater Sydney
According to a Sydney Water spokesman, Greater Sydney is in drought and dam levels are dropping faster than they have in decades, including during the Millennium drought. On average, Sydney dams have been dropping by 0.4% per week and total dam storage levels are currently at 53.4% 3 . The Sydney Desalination Plant was re-started earlier this year when dam levels fell below 60%.

Sydney Water has just announced that Level 1 water restrictions will be in place from 1 June, applying to residents and businesses in Sydney, the Illawarra and the Blue Mountains.

2017 Metropolitan Water Plan portfolio of measures (Image: Metropolitan Water)

“We understand outdoor water use is critical for some businesses and industry. We will grant exemptions to businesses that rely on outdoor use to minimise the impact of water restrictions on critical activities. Sydney Water is working closely with the green sector to get the right balance between water demand management and the sector’s viability. Sydney Water will provide appropriate collateral and is working with industry groups on collaboration planning. This will ensure NGIA members are able to effectively be the expert advisors in their field for their customers”, Sydney Water’s spokesman added.

Sydney businesses can find water-saving tips at

Hunter region
Hunter region water storages look healthier in comparison to Sydney’s, sitting at about two-thirds full (67.5%) 4 .However, water supply in the lower Hunter is vulnerable to drought as its dams fill quickly, but also empty quickly during hot, dry periods due to the shallow nature of its water storages and high evaporation rates.

Whilst there are currently no water restrictions in place in the Lower Hunter, Level 1 water restrictions may be triggered if the low rainfall outlook eventuates and these storages fall below 60 per cent capacity.

Hunter Water Storage and Outlook (Image: Hunter Water)

Hunter Water is offering free water audits to local businesses as part of the Hunter Business Water Savers Program.

Melbourne’s water storages are less than 50 per cent full 5 . The Victorian Government has placed an order for 125GL of water from the Victorian Desalination Project, with production expected to commence in June.

Permanent Water Use Rules are currently in place across the whole state of Victoria, supported by the Target 155 voluntary water efficiency program, which encourages Melburnians to continue using water efficiently.

If Melbourne’s total water storages are less than 1087GL or 60% of storage capacity and greater than or equal to 725GL or 40% of storage capacity as of 30 November, legislation mandates the possible introduction of Stage 1 and 2 restrictions 6 . Under these restrictions, water cannot be used at a commercial nursery, except as required and then only by means of a hand-held hose, bucket or watering can at any time; or a watering system at any time.

Check out the websites of City West Water, South East Water and Yarra Valley Water for information and programs to help your business save water:

Perth’s water storages are fuller than they were this time last year. They are now topped up with groundwater and desalinated water to ensure demand can be met in drier months. Yet these storages are still only at 44.6 % capacity 7 .

Whilst permanent sprinkler restrictions are in force for residential customers in Perth and Mandurah (Area 3), market gardens and plant nurseries fall under the Automatic Exemptions as per the Water Agencies (Water Use) By-Laws 2010. If businesses have a groundwater licence, they must act within the conditions of their licence. Both permanent and temporary water restrictions are governed by the Water Services Regulations 2013 (Part 5). Under certain circumstances (e.g. drought or emergency) temporary water restrictions may be imposed by the Government in specific locations. These would be published in the Western Australian Government Gazette.

Water Corporation works with the Nursery and Garden Industry of WA (NGIWA) to administer the Waterwise Garden Centre Program. It also offers Waterwise Training through the South Metropolitan TAFE, teaching waterwise best practice as applied within the horticultural and landscaping industry.

NGIA would like to remind all members across the country, including those in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, that we have the knowledge and capacity to support your business to conserve water, regardless of where it is in Australia. Levy-funded tools and resources developed to assist the nursery industry to better manage water include the Best Management Practice Guidelines and the online Water Management Toolbox. NGIA highly encourages all members to inform themselves about actual and/or potential water restrictions that may arise in these areas to reduce the risk they pose to your business.

The Bureau of Meteorology’s Water Restrictions website provides access to current water restrictions information for the whole of Australia.

The Water Compare tool provides benchmark water usage across business sectors.

GrantGuru lets you search for available federal, state or local government grants and rebates.

1. Bureau of Meteorology 2019, 'ENSO Outlook decreased to El Niño WATCH; positive IOD possible', ENSO Wrap-Up, 14 May 2019, viewed 22 May 2019
2. Bureau of Meteorology 2019, 'Indian Ocean Dipole outlooks', ENSO Wrap-Up, 14 May 2019, viewed 22 May 2019
3. Water NSW 2019, 'Greater Sydney's dam levels', viewed 29 May 2019
4. Hunter Water 2019, 'Water Storage Levels', viewed 22 May 2019
5. Melbourne Water 2019, 'Water storage and use', viewed 22 May 2019
6. City West Water 2012, City West Water Corporation Water Restriction By-law 001/2012, Issued by the Minister for Water, as Minister administering the Water Act 1989, 27 June 2012
7. Water Corporation 2019, ‘Dam levels, Water supply, viewed 29 May 2019