Drought response

Managing our water supply is very important to us - especially during severe drought conditions. 

Sydney’s water supply is planned and secured through the Metropolitan Water Plan. This is the NSW Government’s plan to ensure there's enough water for the people and environment of Greater Sydney.

We work closely with the NSW Government and other agencies, such as WaterNSW, to coordinate and deliver programs to respond to the drought.

Key elements of our drought response

We've been running our successful WaterFix® Residential program for households for almost 20 years. We also offer a WaterFix® Strata program for large strata buildings.

In these programs, our qualified plumbers check for leaks and ways for homeowners and strata bodies to save water. This usually means fixing leaks and installing water efficient fittings such as 4-star rated showerheads or dual flush toilets.

We're also trialling new water efficiency programs, including:

  • a program with local councils to reach small-medium businesses
  • an audit, repair and awareness program for schools.
We're also working with Hunter Water and Central Coast Council as part of the Save Water Alliance to develop an industry benchmarking methodology and tool. This will help us better identify the types of businesses that could save the most water with our help and expertise.

Plumber and customer talking in bathroom

WaterFix® Residential has helped make homes more water efficient for more than 20 years.

Prolonged, dry conditions can cause clay soil in parts of Greater Sydney to dry out. This leads to more leaks and breaks in our water network. Dry weather can also cause an increase in wastewater blockages due to tree roots seeking water in pipes because the soil is so dry. We respond to leaks and breaks as quickly as we can to reduce the amount of water lost.
Since February 2018, we've had more crews available to respond to these issues. This has helped to reduce the backlog of leaks and breaks.

We also have many ongoing programs to save water and operate more efficiently.

  • Our active Leak Reduction Program saves more than two billion litres of water a year. This program involves inspecting our network for leaks that aren't yet visible above ground so we can fix pipes before they break. In 2018-19, we inspected 13,877 kilometres of water mains.
  • We've developed a Customer Hub team to ensure we can respond more quickly when we receive reports about service issues and keep customers informed about progress. It's important that you report a leak as soon as you see a problem.
  • Our Water Pressure Management Program saves water by reducing pipe breaks and leaks caused by high or fluctuating water pressure. Since 2006, we've saved an average of 30 million litres of water each day by better managing water pressure.
Two workers repairing a leaking hydrant in the footpath

Our crews respond to leaks as quickly as possible.

Water Wise Guidelines are simple, common sense actions about the way we use drinking water outside.

The NSW Government has announced that Water Wise Guidelines have replaced water restrictions and apply to everyone in Sydney, the Blue Mountains and the Illawarra. This includes all residents and businesses.

Young child with watering can and family watching on

Use a watering can to minimise your water use and remember to only water before 10 am and after 4 pm.


In January 2019, Sydney Desalination Plant was restarted as total dam levels fell below 60%. 

We started accepting water from the plant in March 2019 and received more than eight billion litres of water by the end of 2019.

Desalinated water meets the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines and our high standards. The plant has the capacity to produce up to 250 million litres a day at full production, which is equivalent to about 15% of Sydney’s drinking water needs.

After heavy rains in February 2020, our dam levels increased. The plant is continuing to operate to:

  • ensure Greater Sydney has a flexible water supply
  • maintain drinking water quality after the bushfire ash and sediment that was washed into the water storages.

As of 27 March 2020, the plant is operating at minimum capacity. We'll continue to assess whether to keep it running to supplement the water supply.

Find out more about desalination.

Aerial view of Sydney desalination plant

The plant can produce about 15% of Sydney's daily drinking water needs.


We're working to maximise water recycling from our recycled water network to reduce demand for drinking water. This includes:

  • planning how the recycled water supply can be increased for existing recycled water systems, eg  Rouse Hill, St Marys and Wollongong
  • exploring opportunities to provide recycled water to local farmers for agricultural use
  • identifying ways to use recycled water instead of drinking water for major infrastructure projects around Sydney.

Water coming out of large silver pipes

We'll be maximising recycled water use from our advanced treatment plants.

Since August 2018, we've been building community awareness that water is precious and encouraging everyone to use less water by demonstrating simple ways to save water.

Phase 1 of the campaign focused on the ‘Love water, don’t waste it’ message and ran across multiple media channels.

Phase 2 of the campaign launched in May 2019 with a focus on drought awareness and education. This also used multiple channels including television, social media and 'pop-ups' at large community events and shopping centres.

We've also launched a dedicated online hub, which is full of simple water saving tips to reduce water use inside and outside the home. Visit lovewater.sydney to find out more.

Small change shop kiosk with people talking to each other.

The community made pledges to save water at our Small Change Shop.

Drought options study

The Metropolitan Water Plan calls for a drought options study when total dam levels reach 60%. Given the steep decline of dam storage levels, Sydney Water and WaterNSW largely completed the study before dam levels reached 60%. The NSW Government is currently progressing with the roll out of these options.

End use study

To ensure drought response initiatives and campaigns are most effective, they need to be based on data and evidence. In July 2018, we began an 'end use study' using smart meters at 200 homes across Sydney to see how people use water in their homes.

Initial results have shown that about 70% of water use around the home is in three key areas:

  • outdoors
  • showers
  • toilets.
water use in the home

Did you know that showers typically use more water than anything else in the home?