Urban water management

Urban water cycle

The urban water cycle is the system that manages how people get their drinking water and have their wastewater and stormwater removed.

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.
The main source of drinking water is rainwater that's collected and stored in lakes. 

Dams are built to hold the water for later use. Water is pumped from dams through pipes to water filtration plants and reservoirs. From there it's pumped to people’s homes, schools and businesses in pipes called water mains.

Most rivers eventually flow into oceans.

Oceans have also become a source of drinking water for many people around the world using a water treatment process called desalination.

Water that's been used in homes and industry can contain:

  • soaps
  • human waste
  • other pollutants.

This water is transported through a network of pipes to a wastewater treatment plant where it's treated and returned to the enviroment or re-used (recycled).

Recycled wastewater has been treated (cleaned) to a very high level in a water recycling plant to make it safe for re-use.

Stormwater is rain that falls on urban areas and runs off hard surfaces into gutters and a network of pipes. 

These pipes discharge stormwater directly into creeks, rivers and the ocean.

The stormwater system is designed and managed to protect people and their property from flooding.

The structures that store water, the pipes that move water, and the treatment plants that clean water are all part of the urban water cycle.
West Ryde pumping station

Pumping stations move water through the 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:

  • the drinking water supply
  • wastewater removal and treatment
  • some stormwater systems.

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

Drinking water

We deliver 1,400 million litres of high quality filtered drinking water a day to almost 1.9 million homes, businesses and schools.

We source our water from rivers, dam lakes and the ocean. This water is filtered and distributed to homes and businesses thoughout greater Sydney.

We deliver our drinking water through pipes, pumps and reservoirs to where it's needed.

To protect public health, these structures are fully enclosed and continuously monitored to ensure we maintain high quality drinking water. 

Wastewater and recycling

We collect and treat 1.5 biliion litres of wastewater a day. 

We collect this used water through our network of wastewater pipes. Then we deliver it to one of 30 wastewater or water recyling treatment plants.

These treatment plants clean the wastewater to a level safe enough to return to the environment or re-use. 

Eight per cent of our total water supply comes from recycled water. Our recycled water is for non-drinking purposes, eg in industry, for irrigation and to replace enviromental flows.


We work with local councils and other agencies to manage stormwater in Sydney.

This work protects people and their property from flooding, improves the health of waterways and provides opportunities for stormwater re-use.
Head office

We're based at Parramatta in Sydney's west.

We're Australia’s largest drinking water producer and wastewater service provider.

As a commercial organisation, we're owned by the people of NSW. We serve all the people of Sydney, the Blue Mountains and the Illawarra.

Every day, we protect the health of our community by:
  • providing safe and refreshing drinking water
  • removing wastewater
  • protecting our beautiful rivers and beaches.

We're proud of our role in contributing to one of the most liveable cities in the world.

We have enviable quality drinking water plus clean and safe rivers and beaches to enjoy. The people of Sydney can be confident that their iconic, outdoor way of life is protected by our actions.

Our city is growing rapidly and this puts pressure on our natural resources, housing and infrastructure. We also face increasing customer demand for lower prices and better services.

As a water provider, we also deal with the continuous pressures of climate extremes that test our resources and systems to the limit.

We're up to these challenges.

Like the previous 125 years of service provided by the great women and men of Sydney Water, we're passionate about our role in shaping the lifestyle of Sydney, the Blue Mountains and the Illawarra for generations to come.

We're a large organisation with about 2,600 staff.

These people do different jobs to make sure we can bring you clean drinking water and take your wastewater away.

Some people do jobs directly related to water management, but there are many others whose jobs are related to managing a large business including:

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

We encourage young people to get involved in the water industry.

We have a strong and high quality Graduate Program for university students. We also offer Traineeships and industry experience opportunities.

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