Sydney’s water storages plunge as population explodes

By Leith van Onselen

With NSW declared 100% in drought:

The nosedive in Sydney’s water storages “is even steeper than going into the Millennium Drought”, according to The SMH:

As Sydney closes in on its driest autumn and winter since 2006 during the depth of the Millennium Drought, the city’s storages are at 65 per cent, down a quarter in 12 months…

“The nosedive [in water storage levels] is even steeper than going into the Millennium Drought”… Stuart Khan, a professor at the University of NSW’s School of Civil & Environmental Engineering, said…

Storages held enough water to supply the city’s population “for another two years – even without any rain at all over that period,” he said, adding that authorities “have planned for drought conditions”.

Determining how fast dam levels will drop hinges on water use, catchment rainfall and evaporation losses. At current rates, that 60 per cent level would be reached in about six months but at 0.8 percentage-point rate, it would be hit by early January – both before the desal plant will produce water…

The minister “has chronically underestimated the threat and risks of drought”, Mr Minns said. “Labor is demanding clarity on the water restrictions timetable.”

Justin Field, the Greens water spokesman, said “It makes sense to bring in stage 1 water restrictions earlier to reduce the likelihood of more extreme restrictions down the track”.

As usual, there’s no mention that Sydney has added nearly one million people in only the past 13-years. Nor that the city’s population is projected to balloon by another 1.73 million people over the next 20-years on the back of mass immigration, at the same time as droughts become more common because of climate change:

Around one million of this projected population growth is also expected to occur in Sydney’s West, whose water supply is already buckling:

Documents obtained by The Daily Telegraph can reveal WaterNSW and Sydney Water have voiced concerns that Sydney’s urban sprawl and booming population are putting increasing pressure on the water system, and steps need to be urgently taken to ensure Sydney is not hit by a water shortage.

WaterNSW has also revealed that housing developments built too close to pipelines and canals in Western Sydney have “already resulted in impacts to the water quality”. “Increasing urbanisation, particularly in western and southwestern Sydney, have resulted in increased pressure on the integrity of critical water supply infrastructure, namely the Warragamba Pipeline and the Upper Canal,” the documents state…

WaterNSW says that housing and land developments need to start considering the impact building is having on water supply. It is investigating “water augmentation strategies” to service the booming population…

Water scarcity is the elephant in the room of the population debate, and an issue Australia’s mass immigration ‘Big Australia’ boosters conveniently ignore.

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Unconventional Economist


  1. Talking to the Old Man, who is a bit of an expert in the area, says that desalination technology have costs fallen through the floor… now equivalent of pumping water 200km (i.e. it doesn’t cost much).

      • Not sure actually, we didn’t go into it, just general conversation. We were talking about Sydneys potential water shortage – he thought it a non-problem. Churchill Scholarship in irrigation, top technical, seen projects globally. He killed a couple of my pet projects in WA. But seems he was right all along.

        Humans are hard-wired to fear. Its how we survived the savannah not getting eaten by Lions… but real technological shortage in much of the discussion in this forum. Its David Suzuki all over again – in that we should all be dead by now!

        • Persisting with mass immigration on the assumption that technology will save us is just stupid ‘grow and hope’.

          At best, we are facing rising water bills as expensive technological solutions are deployed. You know, the dis-economies of scale MB continually harps on about, which raises costs (lowers living standards) for the incumbent population.

      • Do you walk to work UE? Have enough food for the family? Have he ability to post ideas and information readily? Read, calculate, disseminate. Do you dig a ditch for work?

        Its all technology mate. And change is only going to accelerate, whilst our impact on this world lessen over time. There is a Brave New World out there. I suggest just jump on board.

        Assuming we don’t have a widespread nuclear war, which some suggest now unavoidable – it is inevitable our children will be better of than us. Inevitable!

        Our biggest problem is what are the masses going to do for work, when survival isn’t dependant on it??? How does one fill that hole, that desire to matter?

      • RT, the path we are treading is not leading to a world where survival isn’t dependant on work. The continued privatisation of everything leads to a world of work being essential to survival. The reduced opportunity to actually get any work as technology takes over will lead to some serious problems though. Back in the 1700’s the solution was, steal a loaf of bread to feed your family, get sent to the colonies as a convict. What solution are we going to use?

      • I do know about the tech. There are energy costs to produce water, pump it from the sea and force it through a membrane, then costs to pressurize it and pump it up hill. The current plant will only service low lying areas, sensibly.

        Yes I know there are advances made in membranes, anti-fouling etc. Still you have an underlying energy cost that rainfall into dams at higher altitude doesn’t have, as gravity provides the energy. So its all possible (or would be if we had a government acting in our interests), but inevitably means higher water prices.

      • RT, since you are making an assertion that is contrary to the prevailing knowledge that desal is very expensive, the onus is on you to prove it, not Dan. Show us ya links!

      • Mate I don’t have to prove anything. Rather let you be the expert if you don’t mind… its MB after all!

        Opinion is more important than fact.

      • The current plant uses 46MW for 15% of Sydney’s current needs. That means 300MW will be needed to supply Sydney, if the capital (~$15 billion) can be found to build such a series of plants and additional electricity capacity.

      • @LoriLa
        That’s a bit too simplistic. As I pointed out, the current desal plant will only supply low lying areas within the vicinity of the outflow pipe. You substantially bump up the energy cost if you want to push it to areas above sea level.

    • Ronin8317MEMBER

      Since it’s NSW, we paid $$$ for a decade for a desal plant that isn’t turn on (for maintenance). Now that we need it, we discover it’s not working. For a plant that doesn’t work, we are paying over 560 million dollars a year.

      So what is the consequence for the plant not working? Zero, for the private owners that bought it for 2.3 billion dollars.

    • RT. You should read your comments and responses to others after a whille. I like your views mostly, but, I feel you always come back to your singular agenda. Not playing the man here. Just you have some great data and experience but you always seem to shape it to the Terminator Movie end game.
      Yes work defines me and most of our cohort – but a generation that doesnt have the same social shell isnt going to be worried about the model we grew up with. What are the masses going to do – what they always do – outlive our expectations.
      Use your powers for good not evil 🙂

  2. “Storages held enough water to supply the city’s population “for another two years – even without any rain at all over that period,” he said, adding that authorities “have planned for drought conditions”.”

    This is incorrect. Projecting from that chart, Sydney will run out of water in 2-3 years under present conditions of below average rainfall, not zero rainfall. If we flip to an El Nino, this is the base case scenario, not an outlier.

    • I guess the good news is that migrants don’t age or drink water. 🙂 Therefore we should import more!

  3. Get some Desal plants going – we get over 40% of our water in Perth from desal now. They’ve proven to be a good investment.

      • Apparently, and I haven’t bothered to look but take it on expert opinion, there are two big precipitation drops, cliff like in nature… and two new rainfall plateaus as the climate did a marked change!

        In regards to the amount of water desalination plants are giving to Perth, someone last week told me its actually 50%.

        Like the use of Wiki mate, very expert! Well done…

      • Diogenes the CynicMEMBER

        The Watercorp reports suggest dams provide 10%, groundwater 40% and desal 50%. But it would obviously vary. They are having to rejuice the aquifers with treated wastewater as they are pumping it out too fast – some areas are sinking…

      • Your sole reference was “Someone told me” and you’re giving me shit for referring to (among others) Wikipedia? I’m not pretending to be an expert, that’s why I put the question out there.

  4. It is not just Sydney (and other capitals) but large parts of regional Australia already dealing with water scarcity. The proposed tag-and-release scheme to push migrants to regions will then put pressure on those water resources.

    To make it worse, the Govt is also pushing the development of northern Australia. Predictably, The Oz is pushing it with a page one lead and half of page six. On-line pieces are locked but the ABC has something

    CSIRO reckon they have done exhaustive work on feasibility and careful crop selection. Let’s hope so because Davidson’s Northern Myth looms large in what might be environmental and financial folly.

    • Many regional NSW water supplies are perilously close to running empty, a bad summer and its over. Businesses are failing, farmers are shooting stock. The only reason you would send people to those areas was if you had some large “nation building” water infrastructure scheme.

    • Even assuming that these northern agricultural projects are financially successful, what’s the point of building six new cities up north? Presumably they will be modern, highly mechanized and automated, captial intensive projects employing relatively few people and exporting to world markets through the nearest, modern, highly mechanised and automated ports, so at best they’ll support a handful of regional towns, but they will certainly no great cities and they will not be the basis for mass peopling of the north. At most were talking in the tens of thousands of people. Truth is, they will be a tiny blip on the national economy and they will make a useful but small dent on our imports bill.

    • These are grave concerns indeed, but on the bright side, at least house prices will hold up 😉

      Eating and drinking is for losers.

  5. Cue bleating from the greens about the environment whilst simultaneously telling everyone that they are racist for not wanting higher immigration.

  6. but desal isn’t going to water the Western Australian forests, wine or farming areas. Perth will be a city surrounded by the ocean to the west and desert to the north, south and east. It will be a truly horrible place to live – good luck getting immigrants to move there.

  7. Australian’s consume about 11 billion litres of water per day (432 litres per person x 25 million people). Israel’s Sorek desal plant will produce 627 million litres of water daily. So, Australia probably needs 8 plants like that to meet 40% of total water needs for the whole current population. It cost $500 million in Israel, so here it would probably cost a lot more.

  8. Indian Ocean drives a fair bit of our overall national rainfall. Australian Eastern States is both Indian Ocean & Pacific.

    Outlook is a dry spring with Indian Ocean heat to the west (recent floods) but coming back to normal with heat back to the east (north west Australia) by summer.
    Sept to November IOD outlook.

    East coast Australia.
    The Pacific is yet to form a trend, 50% chance of a El Niño, maybe a warm pool one, so on balance some rains nationally but dryer summer in the east.
    SOI & ENSO Trend so far.

    Clearly we have overloaded Sydney in every aspect, water capacity being just one of them.