Australia is famous for “droughts and flooding rain” and if you are dependent on rainfall for water supplies for domestic and agricultural activities, you need to understand the variability of rainfall in your area and adapt your activities to the changes in rainfall from year to year.  There are three major factors you need to consider: water availability, water quality and offsite impacts (eg. nutrient rich runoff, aquatic weeds, or soil erosion).  These are all influenced by seasonal and annual rainfall differences, dam storage capacity, water use including for emergencies, water efficiency and water recycling.  Even those connected to town water supplies will find they can make significant savings and reduce their offsite impacts by managing their water effectively.

Water Availability

It is important to work out the amount of water that is required for the different activities on your property.  The volume and timing of water needed will depend on the type and scale of activities you undertake, and the seasonal availability of water.  If your primary water supply is through rainfall, in addition to the annual average rainfall you should also find out about seasonality (whether rainfall is evenly spread across the seasons, or whether the majority of rain falls within one season) and inter-annual variability (how much the rainfall varies from year to year from influences such as El Nino).  Adjusting the number of livestock and level of horticultural and other activities to the water availability in any given year will help maintain productivity and prevent issues including soil erosion and degradation on your property.  Installing water efficient appliances and reusing greywater will also reduce the water usage and demand in your home.

Water Storage

Water tanks are the common form of storage for domestic water use on rural residential properties not connected to the mains water supply.  Rainfall from roof areas or pumped from underground is collected in tanks and gravity fed or pumped to internal plumbing.  Water tanks should incorporate mechanisms to exclude insects and other animals, and may need other treatment to correct pH (acidity) or remove harmful micro-organisms.  Groundwater should be tested for arsenic and other contaminants if no records exist or if it is a new bore.  If you are thinking of installing a rainwater tank on your property, you may be eligible for rebates through the NSW Government’s Rainwater Tank Rebate Program (contact your Local Council, Local Water Supplier and the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage). Before installing a rainwater tank you should contact your Local Council to see if you need a development application (DA).

Farm dams are the most common way to store water for non domestic use on rural properties, while the NSW Farm Dams Policy permits landholders to construct a farm dam on a hillside or minor stream, up to a certain capacity without the need for a licence, there are a number of restrictions relating to the construction of farm dams.  It is recommended to contact your Local Council and the NSW Office of Water before undertaking any dam building activity.

Water Quality

Water quality not only affects the natural environment, but the suitability of water for irrigation, livestock, farm equipment, domestic use, and other general farm activities.  There are a wide range of factors that influence water quality.  These include temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, phosphorus, nitrogen, hardness, salinity, turbidity, taste, odour, potential pathogens and algal growth.  How you manage your property will have a big influence on water quality.  For example, intensive horticulture and high stock levels can produce waste water and effluent high in nutrients (which can cause algal blooms and spread of weeds), while maintaining or revegetating buffer zones around water bodies help to maintain water quality by preventing excessive nutrients or sediment from entering the water.  Native vegetation around water bodies also provides shade keeping water temperatures low, which is important for fish habitat and reducing evaporative loss.

Water Management

Things you can do to maintain and improve water quality on your property and lessen off site impacts include:

  • Fence off water bodies to exclude livestock
  • Prevent runoff of high nutrient animal waste entering waterways
  • Prevent soil compaction through stock management and grazing rotation
  • Recycle waste water through an artificial wetland
  • Buffer dams and wetlands with native vegetation to slow water flows, intercepts nutrients, and prevent erosion
  • Reduce soil erosion through maintaining groundcover and placement of contour banks to slow water in high rainfall events
  • Only apply fertilisers and pesticides at recommended rates to minimize runoff into water sources

Waste Water Management

Greywater is the waste water from your shower, bath, spa, hand basins, washing machine, and other domestic use, with the exception of toilets.  Greywater systems can be used to flush toilets and water gardens and save hundreds of litres of fresh water but must be treated if you want to store it.  Use washing powders and detergents which contain no phosphates and salts.

Septic sewage systems can be a significant source of water pollution in rural residential areas.  Septic tanks need regular maintenance and can leak high levels of nutrients an pathogens to your property if they are not checked and looked after.  Alternatively, installing a waterless toilet will reduce the amount of domestic water you require and the waste water and effluent you produce.  Contact your Local Council regarding permits and policies related to greywater reuse and waterless toilets on your rural residential property.  NSW Health also provide accreditation information for on-site single domestic wastewater management systems.


Local Council
NSW Office of Water
NSW Office of Environment and Heritage
NSW Department of Primary Industries
Local Water Provider


Copyright 2011 HCCREMS