House and Garden
The Water SupplyAlmost all homes in Australian capital cities are connected to mains water (also called "scheme" water). There is an annual service charge covering water and sewerage, plus a twice-yearly bill for water usage. (see costs)
Unless you have some alternative method in place (see below), then all the water you use is potable (drinking-quality) water, whether you drink it, shower in it, wash the car or water the garden with it.
Water ShortagesUntil recently, many parts of Australia had experienced low rainfall for many years. During the drought, water restrictions were put in place - for example in some areas residents could not water their gardens, top up swimming pools or wash cars etc.
The eastern states have had good rain for the last couple of winters, so the restrictions have now been lifted.
In Perth, although rainfall has been insufficient for many years, having two alternative water sources (desalination and underground water) has meant that water restrictions have not been too severe. Gardens may be watered on two days each week through summer and pools can be filled.
Bore WaterIn many parts of Perth, underground water is not too far below ground level (typically between 10 and 50 metres)3. Home owners can have a bore drilled in their garden and use the bore water for watering the garden, or filling the pool if the quality is good enough. Depending on the area, there may be a lot of minerals desolved in the water, which can lead to staining (usually orange from iron oxide).
The water is free, but you need to run a pump to bring the water to the surface. It is common for two or more adjoining houses to share a bore.
Rain Water TanksLatest statistics4 show that 26% of Australian houses have rainwater tanks ie. tanks to catch and store rain water running off the roof. The captured water can be used on the garden, or if plumbed in correctly, used in toilets and washing machines.
In WA, the figure is comparatively low - less than 14%. This is probably because in Perth, most rain falls during the winter, when it's not needed for the garden. Then, in summer, the tank will quickly become empty because it hardly rains at all. Using rainwater year-round for toilets and laundry makes more sense, but the installation is more complex and costly.
Grey Water RecyclingGrey water (waste water from showers, baths and laundries) can be used by households to water their gardens. In some areas of Australia this is common practice (over 16% of homes in Victoria use grey water as their primary source of water for the garden). In other areas, like WA, it's not so widespread (2% of households)4.
Data Sources1WA Department of Water
2WA Water Corporation for factsheets on water usage and recycling.
3Ground Water Atlas
4ABS: 4602.0.55.001 - Environmental Issues: Water use and Conservation, Mar 2011