Frequently asked questions

An aerial view of Sydney from a helicopter.

We have created some frequently asked questions and answers.

What is the Greater Sydney Water Strategy?

The Greater Sydney Water Strategy is the NSW Government’s long-term strategy for the management of our water resources in the Sydney, Illawarra and Blue Mountains regions.

The strategy addresses the management of water, wastewater, stormwater and recycled water in the region, so that these services as well as drinking water services can be delivered sustainably and equitably into the future.

The strategy identifies the need to develop an enduring water supply for Sydney, so that we have a minimum amount of water available even in times of severe and prolonged drought. The strategy replaces the previous 2017 Metropolitan Water Plan for Sydney.

Why do we need a Greater Sydney Water Strategy?

The Greater Sydney Water Strategy addresses the need for more sustainable and resilient water management in Greater Sydney into the long-term. The strategy will ensure a sustainable water supply into the long-term so that we have reliable water services to cater for population growth across the Greater Sydney region.

The strategy will also safeguard the Greater Sydney region from severe and prolonged drought. The recent drought highlighted the vulnerability of Greater Sydney’s water supplies, especially the ability to respond to extreme weather events. Between July 2017 and February 2020, Greater Sydney including the Illawarra experienced one of our worst drought sequences on record with storages depleting more rapidly than forecast.

Despite recent rains replenishing storage levels, the government has developed the draft strategy to ensure if we return to drought conditions responses can be put in place to ensure safe, secure and resilient water supplies.

The strategy, in addition to recognising the need for new rainfall-independent water supply sources such as new desalination options and expanded use of recycled water, also identifies a crucial role for new water conservation and efficiency measures. It also recognises the objective of a cooler and greener region as our metropolis continues to grow, highlighting the need for better urban design including water sensitive design, and increased reuse of stormwater.

What are the key water challenges facing Sydney?

The Greater Sydney Water Strategy identifies and seeks to address five key challenges facing the Greater Sydney region, including the Illawarra and Blue Mountains. The key challenges are:

  • Servicing a growing population
  • Building resilience to drought and a changing climate
  • Supporting the economy and jobs
  • Putting water at the heart of our city and communities
  • Improving water management outcomes for Aboriginal people

What are the priorities identified in the Greater Sydney Water Strategy?

In preparing the Greater Sydney Water Strategy, we have identified five key priority areas where management of our water resources in the Greater Sydney region needs to be improved. These are:

  • We understand how much water we need and when
  • Our water systems are sustainable for the long term and resilient to extreme events
  • Our city is green and liveable
  • Our waterways and landscapes are healthy
  • Water management and services meet community needs.

The priorities in the strategy are underpinned by 18 key actions for a more sustainable and resilient Greater Sydney. More detail on the five priorities is available in the draft strategy.

What are some of the solutions identified in the Greater Sydney Water Strategy?

The draft strategy proposes a range of solutions for a more sustainable and resilient Greater Sydney. These include:

  • Continue investment in comprehensive water conservation and efficiency programs to save up to 49 GL/year by 2040 at a relatively low cost
  • Increased utilisation of the existing Sydney Desalination Plant to produce up to an extra 20 GL/year
  • Make much greater use of stormwater and recycled water to cool and green the city and support recreational activities
  • Continue planning for new rainfall-independent supply options such as desalination and investigating purified recycled water where appropriate
  • Invest in upgrades, new connections and leak management to address the risks posed by ageing water and wastewater systems and infrastructure
  • Integrate our water and land use planning more effectively to incorporate sustainable water use into building and landscaping design.

How much water does Sydney need to cater for growth?

Sydney is growing–we expect by over 1 million extra people by 2036. Greater Sydney’s drinking water system provides a long-term supply of 515 to 540 billion litres of water per year. To put this in perspective, Sydney Harbour holds about 500 billion litres.

If population growth is low, we will need an additional 120 billion litres per year by 2060. If the population growth reflects a ‘mid-case’ scenario, the projected gap between what can be supplied sustainably and the demand for water increases to about 250 billion litres per year by 2060. This is equivalent to about half the volume of Sydney Harbour.

Why do we need rainfall independent water sources like desalination plants and recycled water projects?

Experience from the recent drought from 2017-20 and the earlier Millennium Drought showed that had the drought continued and had dam levels continued to fall at the same rate, Greater Sydney’s water supply would have reached critically low levels before there was time to bring on new sources of supply. Additionally, Greater Sydney’s population is growing, with over 1 million extra people forecast to live in Greater Sydney by 2036.

With limited available new sources of surface water—that is, water from storage dams—the Greater Sydney Water Strategy envisages the need to develop new sources of water that are not dependent on rainfall. Non-rainfall dependent water sources include desalination of seawater and recycled water for a variety of uses.

Will recycled water be added to the drinking water supply?

In some parts of the world, highly treated or purified recycled water forms a part of the drinking water supply. Until now purified recycled water has not formed a significant part of water supply systems in Australia.

The Greater Sydney Water Strategy envisages potential rainfall-independent water supply options that may include the addition of highly treated, purified recycled water to the broader water supply. This would only occur after stringent rules and systems were in place to ensure all water quality standards are met, and with the acceptance of the community.

How does the Greater Sydney Water Strategy plan for increased water conservation?

Using water more efficiently—and wasting less water—means we make the best use of all our available water. It also means we can potentially reduce or delay investment in costly new supply infrastructure. The Greater Sydney Water Strategy identifies a range of potential new water saving approaches that will be investigated and where appropriate implemented over time, including:

  • Supporting households to save water, such as buy-back programs for inefficient appliances, maintenance services for rainwater tanks, free repairs to leaky taps and fittings, and helping people to use water more wisely (and make better use of stormwater) in their gardens
  • Encouraging businesses to save water, including water saving action plans and audits, replacement programs for inefficient commercial appliances and help to find and fix leaks
  • Setting best practice water efficiency and sustainability standards for buildings and appliances, and providing ratings and labels to help consumers choose water efficient products
  • Conducting campaigns to make people more aware of ways to save water in their everyday lives and the benefits to the wider community of water conservation.

With these initiatives, analysis undertaken for the Greater Sydney Water Strategy indicates that an additional 49 GL/year per year of drinking water could be saved by 2040.

Who developed the Greater Sydney Water Strategy?

The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment developed the draft Greater Sydney Water Strategy in partnership with Sydney Water and WaterNSW based on:

  • the direction provided by the Greater Sydney Region Plan–A Metropolis of Three Cities, issued in 2018 by the Greater Sydney Commission
  • community feedback from a range of previous consultation and engagement processes including consultation on the NSW Water Strategy, water sharing plans and water resource plans
  • the findings and recommendations from many inquiries and reviews into water management
  • the experience of the recent drought.

What is the difference between this strategy and the last one (the 2017 Metropolitan Water Plan, which it replaces)?

Planning for long term sustainable and secure water supplies for Greater Sydney – a metropolis of three cities – has always been an adaptive process. Planning for our most precious resource has always required that major strategies and policy approaches are regularly reviewed and revised to meet the needs of the growing region.

The 2017 Metropolitan Water Plan, and previous plans, included long term planning for Sydney’s water supply and measures to be implemented to secure the water supply in response to drought. The plan included trigger levels for the provision of rainfall independent supply initiatives in the event of a severe and prolonged drought.

In the years since the previous plan was released in 2017, Greater Sydney experienced one of the most severe drought sequences on record, with rapid depletion of our storage dams. Due to the severity of the drought, it became apparent that had storages continued to decline at the same rate, there may not have been enough time to implement new sources of supply.

The final Greater Sydney Water Strategy will address this with the inclusion of an implementation plan including proposed initiatives, roles and responsibilities to ensure a more sustainable and resilient water supply.

How can I have my say on the Greater Sydney Water Strategy?

Public exhibition of the draft Greater Sydney Water Strategy has closed.

The NSW Government engaged with the community and stakeholders for people to have their say on the priorities and actions identified in the strategy.

We will take all community and stakeholder feedback into account as we work to develop the final Greater Sydney Water Strategy.

When will the final Greater Sydney Water Strategy be released?

The draft Greater Sydney Water Strategy is on public consultation until 8 November 2021. Once feedback has been received from the community, the department will consider all views raised and will address these in the final strategy. The final Greater Sydney Water Strategy is expected to be released in early 2022.

What is the Greater Sydney Water Strategy timeline?

28 September – 8 November 2021 Public consultation Hear views from stakeholders and the community
Late 2021 Finalise the strategy Consolidate feedback on the draft, publish ‘what we heard’ report
Early 2022 Publish final strategy Publish final strategy and implementation plan
2022 and beyond Implement, evaluate and adapt Ongoing evaluation of implementation and adaption of the strategy as circumstances change