Urban water management

How we manage water in urban environments

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, and that used water is removed and cleaned. This is called the urban water cycle.

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.

We have an urban water cycle in Sydney.

What elements make up our urban water cycle?

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

It also includes the natural water cycle elements.

Illustration of the urban water cycle.

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, and are all managed differently.

Other organisations that manage water

Many organisations in Greater Sydney work together to manage water.

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.

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.

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.

Self-guided excursions

We'll help teachers set up their own local waterway excursion.

What kinds of careers are at Sydney Water?

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. We have roles in finance, legal services, accounting, public relations, information technology and 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.

Teacher resources

Urban water cycle PowerPoint (2.5 MB) – use this resource in the classroom to show layers of water infrastructure in Sydney

Glossary – definitions of keywords and industry terms