War on Waste Water


Water – a precious commodity

Water is a precious commodity. In many parts of Australia, it is a scarce resource (Water in Australia, 2008). It makes sense for responsible homeowners to develop conscientious and conscious practices around urban water usage. Twenty one percent of Australia’s water use, sits in the category of urban water provided as domestic drinking water (Bureau of Meteorology, 2017)

National Guidelines for Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD)

In 2004 and 2006, The National Water Initiative (NWI) was agreed upon by Federal, State and Territory governments in Australia. The NWI provided a national plan to improve water management across the country. It’s clear intention was to “Create Water Sensitive Australian Cities”. The adoption of Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) approaches were encouraged across the nations in homes, neighbourhoods and cities. 

Water Sensitive Urban Design is a set of principles that can be applied to sustainably manage water, providing opportunities for the development of industry, local government and their communities to achieve more liveable cities with vibrant and healthy waterways.

Urban development using conventional approaches can have a negative impact on the natural water cycle. WSUD seeks to minimise this impact by integrating developments with a site’s natural features and promoting the integration of stormwater, water supply and sewage management (Healthy Land and Water, 2020).

Urban Water Sources

In integrated approaches, multiple sources of water are defined within legislative and regulatory documents. Identification and classification of water sources, facilitates in understanding processes geared towards reducing, reusing and recycling urban water. 

For example, a popular classification of urban water sources (Master Plumber & Mechanical Services Association of Australia, 2008) includes the following categories:

  • rainwater (or roof water) – water collected from the roofs of buildings 
  • greywater – wastewater from the hand basin, shower, bath, spa bath, washing machine, laundry tub, kitchen sink and dishwasher. Water from the kitchen is generally too high in grease and oil to be reused successfully without significant treatment (does not include black water – water containing human excrement) 
  • stormwater – rainfall that runs off all urban surfaces such as roofs, pavements, carparks, roads, gardens and vegetated open space 
  • mains water – potable water from a reticulated water supply, e.g. town water supply 

Next, let us have a look at the three R’s – reduce, reuse and recycle – and their application on waste water management in Australia. 


In order to reduce the pressure on supply of potable water, Australian governments started incentivising the installation of rainwater tanks at the beginning of the millennium (Master Plumber & Mechanical Services Association of Australia, 2008). It was recommended that households collect rainwater to use for household purposes such as irrigation and so on.

Many local councils developed successful water conservation programs (NSW Health, 2000). These programs promoted activities such as: 

  • Installation of water saving devices to conserve water, including dual flush cisterns, water conserving shower heads, dishwashers and clothes washing machines. 
  • Taking shorter showers, 
  • turning the tap off when cleaning teeth, 
  • ensuring that taps do not continuously drip, and 
  • using dishwashers and clothes washers only when the load is full and so on

Reuse and Recycle 

The idea of reusing greywater was also introduced as a way of reducing pressure on municipal water supply. Although rules and regulations across the Australian states and territories vary, appropriately treated grey water could be re-used in the domestic setting for the following purposes: 

  • toilet flushing 
  • washing of paths, walls or vehicles 
  • cold water supply to washing machines 
  • lawn and garden spray irrigation.

Greywater can be diverted from laundries and bathrooms by something as simple as manual bucketing. Otherwise, a flexible hose can be connected to a washing machine outlet. For larger households, where larger volumes of greywater are expected, a council approved domestic greywater diversion device or treatment plants is recommended (Department of Infrastructure and Planning, 2008). 

Simple greywater systems divert greywater from the laundry or bathroom directly to an irrigation system that uses gravity to disperse the water via a diversion device. Sometimes a pump may be necessary, to distribute diverted greywater. In case there is a blockage or pump failure, greywater must automatically be diverted into the sewerage system. 

In principle, greywater reuse within the home can be simple and beneficial. However, always check with your local council, for the latest rules and regulation around greywater reuse and recycling. 

The Future Of Water Security

The measures discussed above, help to minimise urban water consumption and reduce water wastage. In the future, these measures ought to be taken up by more and more people. However, water security is a complex issue.  To safeguard Australia’s capacity to provide safe, reliable water supplies and protect against water-related dangers for all its people, more work needs to be done. 

In a systems approach, apart from urban water use and waste, agricultural and industrial water demand and supply plays a vital role. Together these sectors make up for 79% of Australia’s water use (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2008). 

A comprehensive national policy that looks at the entire water cycle is needed. It is known that drinking water supplies are greatly affected by how land is managed. Improving the health of the lands around the water sources improves water quality. Concerned and conscientious land management restores reliable water flow and brings numerous benefits upstream and downstream (The Nature Conservancy, 2019).

A broad, integrative, national approach that can manage agendas between the rural-urban divide, across scales, states and geographies is needed (Taylor, 2019). Climate change is an issue that severely threatens water security in Australia. The war on waste water, therefore, needs an effective overhaul of our entire social, economic and environmental management system. 


Australian Bureau of Satistics. (2008). Water in Australia. Australian Bureau of Statistics,. https://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/7d12b0f6763c78caca257061001cc%20588/330bc8fdfd50bee4ca2573c6001049f9!OpenDocument#:~:text=Water%20is%20a%20scarce%20resource%20in%20many%20parts%20of%20Australia.&text=In%20recent%20years%2C%20low%20rainfall,further%20pressure%20on%20water%20supplies.

Bureau of Meteorology. (2017). Water in Australia,

Department of Infrastructure and Planning. (2008). Greywater Guidelines. Queensland Government. https://www.hpw.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0021/4845/qld-plumbing-wastewater-code-guidelines.pdf

Healthy Land and Water. (2020). Water Sensitive Urban Design. https://waterbydesign.com.au/wsud

Master Plumber, & Mechanical Services Association of Australia. (2008). Requirements for installation of rainwater and greywater systems in Australia. National Water Commission. https://www.newwaterways.org.au/downloads/Resources%20-%20Policy%20and%20Guidelines/Water%20reuse%20and%20recycling/Final_Waterlines_full_version.pdf

NSW Health. (2000). Greywater Reuse in Sewered Single Domestic Premises

Taylor, K. S. (2019). What does ‘water security’ mean for Australia? A review of Australian policy  Parliamentary Library. 

The Nature Conservancy. (2019). Better water security? We sink or swim together. https://www.natureaustralia.org.au/what-we-do/our-insights/perspectives/better-water-security-we-sink-or-swim-together/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwwLKFBhDPARIsAPzPi-LzC5NulLgCpf8WsLV9eE9mxp2CMTYVHBfagWBHqWm1eS_N_7c_xAMaAhfDEALw_wcB

Water in Australia. (2008).  Australian Bureau of Statistics,. https://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/7d12b0f6763c78caca257061001cc%20588/330bc8fdfd50bee4ca2573c6001049f9!OpenDocument#:~:text=Water%20is%20a%20scarce%20resource%20in%20many%20parts%20of%20Australia.&text=In%20recent%20years%2C%20low%20rainfall,further%20pressure%20on%20water%20supplies.

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