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.

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.

Launch the Urban water cycle animation.

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 NSW Government has established the independent Greater Sydney Commission. It will be responsible for metropolitan planning in a partnership between state and local government.

The commission will play a major role in coordinating water infrastructure and urban planning to improve the city's liveability in the future.

NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment

The Water and Utilities Branch of NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment leads the development of water policy and planning for Greater Sydney.

This includes things like implementing the current Metropolitan Water Plan. The plan outlines the mix of measures needed to ensure Sydney, the Illawarra and Blue Mountains have enough water now and for the future.

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.

Treated stormwater can, in some areas, be a cost-effective local water supply that reduces demand for drinking water and helps stop pollutants entering our waterways.

In greater Sydney, treated stormwater is used:

  • to irrigate public parks, golf courses and sporting ovals
  • in cooling towers
  • to flush toilets.

Protecting public health

NSW Health

NSW Health, through its Environmental Health Branch, is responsible for health issues related to the interaction between the environment and the health of people.

Water related environmental health issues include:

  • providing safe drinking water supplies
  • recreational use of water
  • wastewater management
  • health aspects of public swimming pools.


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 an independent authority. Its primary role is to protect the environment.

The authority is works with the community, businesses, industry and government to maintain a balance between:
  • protecting the environment
  • managing competing demands on the environment
  • supporting sustainable growth.


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

Catchment management authorities

Catchment management authorities work with the Commonwealth and NSW Government to solve land, water and native plant problems.

They give advice on managing natural resources and work with local councils, government departments and land owners to improve catchments.

We're a large organisation with about 2,500 staff. 

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

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 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.

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