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Australia - Water

The water quality in Australia is considered to be of good quality, although the country is one of the driest on earth and water conservation is one of the main priorities. There are restrictions of various levels in all states and in order to ease the problem there are plans for increased use of desalination plants.

Water provision is overseen by each state and the water companies are state-owned in the states of Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory. In Queensland and Tasmania the water services are provided by utilities which are owned by regional government. Water companies in other states supply bulk water to the utility companies which are state owned.

It is estimated that in the future the country will face increased shortages as it is expected that there will be less rainfall and levels in dams and rivers will fall. There are many parts of the country which rely on water stored in reservoirs and it is these areas which are particularly vulnerable. Groundwater provides only a small percentage of the water used in the country. There is an increasing use of reclaimed water for purposes other than drinking such as the irrigation of agricultural land, golf courses or other industrial uses.

The city of Adelaide receives drinking water from a number of sources including the Torrens River and the Barossa River. The Gold Coast area of the country uses water stored in dams on the Stanley River, Brisbane River and the North Pine River as well as a number of smaller dams in the area and groundwater sources. The Capital Territory has sources from the Cotter River and several others. The Melbourne area harvests much of its water from the Yarra mountain ranges. This arrangement is rare and only a few cities in the world use such a method. The Perth area has a number of reservoirs and a desalination plant. The Sydney area has a number of rivers which feed into reservoirs and there are plans for a desalination plant.

Most water companies in Australia base their charges on the actual usage. The system used to be one based on property values. The new system is being adapted in order to encourage households to use less water and there have been significant decreases in most areas. Tariffs are expected to rise in years to come in response to the cost of desalination. The average annual bill varies according to region but most households will pay a minimum of $700.

There are a number of restrictions in different areas and these range from bans on hosepipes, lawn sprinklers, swimming pool refilling and watering the garden. There are also some towns and areas which have no water restrictions. Water levels in all areas are categorised in ‘stages’, so a town categorised as ‘stage 1’ has the most water and the fewest restrictions and ‘stage 8’ is the highest level, with the least water and the most restrictions.

New customers do not need to register with the water companies. When you purchase a property your details are registered with the Land and Property Information office. These details are automatically passed on to the water company which supplies your district. It is the owner of the property that is billed, so if you are a tenant then your landlord receives the bill. You may still be required to make a contribution to the water bill, though, and these arrangements will be detailed in your tenancy agreement. Customers do not receive a choice of water supply companies.

Bills can be paid online at the website of the water company or via your online banking system. You can also pay by direct debit with many companies and most customers find this the most convenient option. Alternatively you can pay with cash, credit card or cheque at your bank, at the post office or send a cheque directly to the water company.

The Water Services Association of Australia has a listing of all the major water companies in the country and many are registered with the group as full members. The association sets the standards for water companies to follow in order to ensure high levels of service and quality of water.

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