Urban water management

Aerial view of Sydney Harbour

We have an urban water cycle in Sydney.

All water comes from the environment and is part of the natural water cycle.

People modify and manage the natural water cycle to make sure:

  • we have a safe and reliable water supply
  • used water is removed and cleaned to protect public health and the environment.

What is the urban water cycle?

The urban water cycle is the way water is collected, used and managed in an urban environment such as Sydney.

In an urban environment people interact with the natural water cycle by:

  • collecting and storing water for us to use
  • adding things to water, like rubbish and pollutants
  • building structures, roads and other hard surfaces that interrupt the flow of water.

The urban water cycle is a system that helps us manage these interactions so we:
  • have enough clean, safe water for a growing population
  • protect public health
  • protect the environment.

Our urban water cycle is part of our liveable cities.

What elements make up our urban water cycle?

Urban water cycle illustration

Illustration of the urban water cycle. Select the image to see a larger version.

The urban water cycle is made up of elements like:
  • dams
  • water filtration plants
  • water pumping stations
  • water reservoirs
  • drinking water supply pipes
  • wastewater treatment and water recycling plants
  • wastewater pumping stations
  • wastewater pipes
  • stormwater drains and pipes
  • desalination plants.

Who manages Sydney's urban water cycle?

Sydney Water and a range of other agencies are responsible for managing the urban water cycle in Sydney, the Blue Mountains and the Illawarra.

We manage:

These systems are completely separate from one another to protect public health at all times.

Many organisations in greater Sydney work together to manage water.

Planning for the future

Greater Sydney Commission

The Greater Sydney Commission is responsible for metropolitan planning in a partnership between state and local government. They coordinate water infrastructure and urban planning to improve the city's liveability.

NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment

NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment leads the development of water policy and planning for Sydney metropolitan water. They implement the Metropolitan Water Plan.

Local councils

Local councils are responsible for about 95% of stormwater drains and canals in the Sydney region. Most stormwater harvesting schemes are locally operated. Learn more about stormwater management.

Protecting public health

NSW Health

NSW Health's Environmental Health Branch is responsible for the interaction between the environment and the health of people. This includes safe drinking water, recreational use of water and wastewater management.


WaterNSW manages and protects the drinking water catchments of the greater Sydney region and supplies high quality raw water.

Private water suppliers and managers

Private companies also supply and manage water in different parts of Sydney.

Sydney Desalination Plant provides high quality water when our dam levels fall below 60%, as outlined in the Metropolitan Water Plan.

Protecting the environment

Environmental Protection Authority

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) is the primary environmental regulator. It partners with business, government and the community to protect the environment and human health. 


WaterNSW works together with local councils, landholders, government agencies and industry to protect our drinking water catchment.

We're a large organisation with about 2,750 staff. 

Some of our jobs are directly related to water management, but there are many other jobs involved in running a large business including:

  • finance
  • legal services
  • accounting
  • public relations
  • information technology
  • risk management.

We were voted Australia's Number 1 Graduate employer in 2021. We also offer Traineeships  and undergraduate programs.

Speak to your school careers advisor to investigate study choices for the water industry.

Urban water cycle diagram

Urban water cycle

Use this resource in the classroom to show layers of water infrastructure in Sydney.

Urban water cycle PowerPoint