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NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment
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Sydney is a growing city, and a secure long-term water supply is vital if we are to continue to thrive and prosper.


In recent years, our focus has evolved from providing essential services to investing in the creation of sustainable and liveable communities - all while keeping household bills low. We’re supporting this transition in several ways, including:

  • Working with Sydney Water and WaterNSW to deliver an integrated long-term plan.
  • Improving the regulatory framework for private water utilities.
  • Better integrating land use and water planning.


2017 Metropolitan Water Plan

The NSW Government has a long term Metropolitan Water Plan for Sydney. This ensures we have enough water to meet Sydney’s needs, to withstand drought and to accommodate population growth.


Our 2017 Metropolitan Water Plan outlines how we intend to optimise existing water supplies; details of water efficiency and conservation programs; actions to manage drought; and a summary of new supply options, if required.


The plan was first developed in 2004 in response to severe drought. We review it periodically to incorporate the latest information including technical studies, hydrological modelling, economic analyses, population growth forecasts and climate change scenarios. It was revised in 2006 and 2010 and was last updated in 2017. The next version of the Metropolitan Water Plan will be published in 2020.


Managing our water supply system

Our 2017 Metropolitan Water Plan contains a mix of water supply and demand measures (such as dams, desalination, recycling, water efficiency and water restrictions) so our system can provide the water security we need in the most cost-effective way.


When needed, we adjust these measures to protect our supply. To respond to dam levels dropping at unprecedented rates, we have enacted a number of measures including introducing level 1 water restrictions, switching on the Sydney Desalination Plant, preliminary planning for its expansion and the re-activation of water transfers from the Shoalhaven. 


This complex system is highly flexible and can be reconfigured during times of drought, high rainfall or during maintenance to supply the best quality water to the community.


Our Dams

Sydney’s water supply catchment area encompasses two major river systems, the Hawkesbury-Nepean and the Shoalhaven, as well as the Woronora River and 11 major dams. The interconnected network of dams allows water to be transferred to where it is needed most. Under the Metropolitan Water Plan, we can access more water by starting transfers from the Shoalhaven River to Sydney if overall dam storage levels fall to 75 per cent capacity.


WaterNSW is responsible for managing Sydney’s catchments and storages and monitors dam levels daily. It balances water supplies across Sydney’s large storage network to ensure the best use of water from each of the 10 major dams.


Find out current dam levels.


Sydney Desalination Plant

The Sydney Desalination Plant was built to ensure Sydney does not run out of water during a drought. This is because, unlike Sydney’s other water catchments, the plant relies on seawater rather than rainfall.


The plant can produce an average of 250 million litres per day of drinking water, equivalent to 15 per cent of Sydney's current water demand. Its capacity can be doubled, if required, to meet future needs.


The Sydney Desalination Plant operates under rules outlined in the Metropolitan Water Plan and started up when Sydney’s dam levels fell to 60 per cent storage capacity. Read more about the Sydney Desalination Plant.


The next step is to begin preliminary planning for expansion of the plant. This allows us to investigate future expansion if needed to address extreme water shortages.


Water restrictions

The Department oversees the implementation of the Metropolitan Water Plan to provide water security and sustainable use in the greater Sydney area. This plan lays out the approach to water management with different levels of intervention based on the current water supply in our dams. However, this drought is depleting our water supply at unprecedented rates. We are taking strong action to secure our supply and mitigate risks. To match these to the accelerated rate of depletion, we are implementing the commencement of Level 1 water restrictions ahead of the 50 per cent dam capacity trigger.


Current water restrictions

Under the Metropolitan Water Plan, Level 1 water restrictions start when the Warragamba Dam hits 50 per cent capacity. Given the unprecedented rate of depletion due to this drought, Level 1 water restrictions came into effect from 1 June 2019.


To learn about current water restrictions, visit Water Wise Rules.


How you use water outside is only one part of the story. Did you know that about 70 per cent of water use is inside the home? To learn about how your small indoor changes can make a big difference, visit Your Home.


Together we can reduce our use and protect our supply.


Water transfers

The Shoalhaven System is a very large system with higher average inflows than Warragamba Dam. When water supplies in Sydney and the Illawarra are limited, transfers from Tallowa Dam on the Shoalhaven help ensure water security for over 5 million people.


These transfers stop when Tallowa dam is still 75% full. This means there is still five years of supply for Shoalhaven customers in Tallowa Dam.


View Shoalhaven water transfers frequently asked questions. (pdf, 98Kb)


Water efficiency

Water Wise Rules

Sydney has one of the largest water storage capacities of any city in the world and is well placed to withstand extended dry conditions. However, there are actions you can take to conserve our water supplies by following the Water Wise Rules.


The Water Wise Rules are permanent, voluntary rules around water use which were developed at the end of the Millennium Drought. These promote the sensible use of water outdoors, such as watering before 10 am and after 4 pm, and using a bucket or hose with a trigger nozzle to wash cars. Read more about the Water Wise Rules.


Water Efficiency and Labelling Standards (WELS) Scheme

The Water Efficiency and Labelling Standards (WELS) scheme is a national program designed to help consumers choose water efficient products.


All states and territories have complementary WELS legislation. In NSW, the state government legislates the Water Efficiency and Labelling Standards (New South Wales) Act 2005. Read more about the WELS Scheme.


Building Sustainability Index (BASIX)

The Building Sustainability Index (BASIX) aims to reduce water and energy consumption in newly constructed homes across NSW. Read more about BASIX.


Recycled water schemes

Recycling schemes help to reduce pressure on water supply systems and contribute to water security during drought.


To support this, we made it easier for the private sector to deliver recycling services by introducing the Water Industry Competition Act 2006 (the Act). There are now 19 private water recycling schemes licensed under the Act in operation or under construction across the state. These schemes provide innovative water and sewerage schemes that recycle wastewater so that households can reuse it in laundries, toilets, air-conditioning systems and gardens. Read more about wastewater management and water recycling.


Read more about our recycled water network.


Investigating barriers and enablers to cost-effective water recycling

The 2017 Metropolitan Water Plan included a review of the barriers and enablers to the uptake of cost-effective water recycling. This action was led by Infrastructure NSW and the review was completed in 2018. The review report focuses on the current policy and regulatory settings, particularly related to the pricing and investment incentives of public and private water utilities in greater Sydney, the lower Hunter and the Central Coast. It makes 32 recommendations to improve the current policy and regulatory framework for water recycling to support cost effective recycling projects. Click here to view the NSW Government response. The Department will commence implementation of the Government's response in 2019. IPART is also responsible for a number of recommendations, the Department has forwarded the report to IPART for their consideration.

Page last updated: 03/09/2019