Can you drink the tap water in Australia? What are the potential risks and issues? How do you know if it’s safe to drink? How does the tap water in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth differ? Is bottled water safer and healthier? What is the best water filter for Austrlia?
In this article we will explore these questions and more about Australian tap water and why some homes should consider using a water filter.
Where does the tap water in Australia come from?
Australia is the driest continent and country on Earth, and among the world’s highest consumers of water. In 2019 Australia ranked fourth-highest in water use per capita. In most parts of Australia, surface water stored in reservoirs is the main source for municipal water supply, making water supply vulnerable to droughts; only a much smaller share comes from groundwater.
According to the Australian government climate change will increase acute long-term water shortages with lower rainfall, rivers drying up and dam water levels falling. Therefore non-conventional water sources, such as seawater desalination, play an increasing role in Australia’s water supply, with recent plants built in Perth, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.
In addition to this the use of reclaimed water — the non-potable reuse of treated wastewater – is increasingly used for irrigation of green spaces, golf courses, agricultural crops or industrial uses.
How is the tap water treated and monitored?
According to the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (ADWG), safe drinking water is a supply that does not exceed pre-defined levels of specific pollutants such as heavy metals, nitrates and pathogens, making it safe for human consumption. The Public Health Act 2010 calls on all drinking water suppliers to carry out quality assurance tests on a routine basis.
Governments of Australian states, territories and local governments are in charge of providing service provision in Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory through water utilities owned by either local or state governments. See city by city overview below for more information.
Generally the standard of water treatment is very high thanks to regulation and frequent testing.
Is the tap water in Australia safe to drink?
The answer given by most professionals is that the public tap water in Australia is “perfectly safe to drink”. But perfectly is a very strong word.
Until the late 1990s, Australians took great pride in their safe drinking water. Then, in 1998, Sydney Water was forced to send out an alert warning that water from its largest treatment plant contained dangerous parasites and was unsafe to drink. Although the problem was eventually addressed, the source of the contamination was never pinpointed and the incident marked the beginning of the end of the public’s trust in the safety of tap water for drinking.
Of more concern to all health conscious Australians should be the fact that our tap water is only monitored for 70 chemicals, whilst there are over 300 known chemicals that should be of concern. Microplastics for example that are common found in tap water are unregulated.
Furthermore the maximum allowed limits of chemicals in tap water such as lead, nitrates, chlorine, THMs, etc have been set based on adults and children but not infants and small children. Many studies have shown that there is no safe level of lead or nitrates for infants.
In the US PFAS has been a growing concern in the past 5 years. In Australia over 60 sites have been identified with PFAS contamination. So far none of these have been identified as at risk of contaminating the local tap water supplies. Erin Brockovich famous from the movie with the same name have sounded several alarms about the risk of PFAS in Australia in recent years.
Another challenge is that most testing is carried out directly after water treatment. This means that buildings and neighborhoods with old or damaged pipes are not necessarily identified by the water utilities. For example, your pipes could be leeching plastics, copper, iron, lead or biofilm without anyone alerting you.
So is Australian tap water safe to drink?
For adults the answer is yes but for households with infants or young children a water filter is a good safety measure.
What is the taste of tap water?
This is another challenging question to answer. For most people the tap water they’ve grown up with simply tastes like tap water. Not great and bot bad. However, there are big differences throughout the country. The Water Industry Association of Australia runs a competition every year to find out where the best tasting tap water is. Visit their website for more.
Tap water in Sydney
More than four million people in Sydney and surrounding area rely on the catchments (reservoirs) of the Warragamba, Upper Nepean, Blue Mountains, Shoalhaven, and Woronora river systems to supply their drinking water. This makes up about 60 per cent of the population of New South Wales. In addition to this Sydney Water has a desalination plant powered by wind energy that can supply up to 15% of the drinking water supply to the region.
A 2016 Macquarie University study suggested some Australians are at risk of consuming hazardous levels of lead from their tap water. However, while the levels of lead exceed the acceptable limits as laid out in the ADWG, it appears the issue lies with the domestic fixtures rather than the water supply itself. Another study showed high levels of nitrates found in Meekatharra Town Water Supply.
The water in Sydney is medium hard and above average in terms of chlorine level which to many people makes it taste pretty bad.
To check your local water quality visit Sydney Water.
Tap water in Melbourne
Some 90% of Melbourne’s drinking water comes from uninhabited mountain ash forests high up in the Yarra Ranges east of Melbourne. These water reservoirs have been closed to the public for more than 100 years to keep them safe. Melbourne Water states that the local tap water is of the highest quality and that there is absolutely no need to use a filter. There have been instances however where storms caused water contamination in Melbourne.
The local tap water is soft and slightly alkaline generally giving it a good taste. Chlorine levels depend on where you live (how close to a chlorination station) which means that some tap water may taste of the disinfection chemical.
In August 2020 more than 250,000 Melbourne households were told not to drink tap water after the supply was contaminated in a freak storms. These kind of incidents happen occasionally but citizens are almost always informed before there is any health risk.
Read more about tap water in Melbourne on the Melbourne Water website.
Tap water in Brisbane
Water storage, treatment and bulk supply for Brisbane is handled by SEQ Water, which sells on to Brisbane Water (Urban Utilities) for distribution to the Greater Brisbane area. Water for the area is stored in three major dams; Wivenhoe Dam on the Brisbane River, Somerset on the Stanley River and North Pine on the North Pine River.
For more information about your local tap water quality visit Urban Utilities.
Tap water in Perth
Perth receives approximately 10% to 20% of its water from a series of reservoirs, 40% from groundwater sources (mostly from the Gnangara groundwater system north of Perth), and 40% from two seawater desalination plants. Perth’s climate has dried considerably since the 1970s wich is why desalinated water plays such an important role.
The local tap water is medium hard and alkaline with fairly high chlorine levels.
For more information about the tap water quality in Perth visit the Water Corporation Website.
How do you know your tap water is safe to drink?
First check the water quality reports from your local water utility. See above for Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.
If you are still uncertain then home test kits can be a good starting point. Here’s one local site for test strips: https://www.alloratestkits.com.au/is-our-water-safe-to-drink/
Is bottled water in Australia healthy to drink?
Is bottled water safer or healthier than tap water? In short no. Read more in our analysis about bottled vs tap vs filtered water.
For example here are some of the most common bottled water brands and prices in Australia:
- Santa Vittoria. Price: $1.70 for 750ml.
- Mount Franklin. Price: $2.15 for 600ml.
- Voss. Price: $3.10 for 375ml.
- Thankyou Water. Price: $2.10 for 1.5L.
- San Pellegrino. Price: $3.15 for 750ml.
- JUST Water. Price: $1.50 for 500ml.
- Antipodes. Price: $5.09 for 1L.
- Fiji water. Price: $1.80 for 350ml.
If your main bottled water at home is Fiji water then you’ll probably spend over the$1500 per year on bottled water. Check our savings calculator for more.
Another recent trend is alkaline water but much of the tap water in Australia is already alkaline. Although the benefits are not proven yet it may benefit some people. Some water filters such as TAPP also increase the pH and therefore may give similar benefits.
What is the best water filter for Australia?
Based on the high quality source water a high quality faucet water filter or pitcher is generally the best water filter for Australia. TAPP 2 has specifically been designed and tested for the common contaminants in Australian tap water including chlorine, microplastics, lead, nitrates, THMs and PFAS. Therefore you can rest assure that you and your family is safe by using a TAPP water filter.
TAPP Water filters are available on http://tappwater.com.au.
Read more about how the TAPP 2 faucet water filter works.
Conclusion about tap water in Australia
- We cannot say that tap water in Australia is perfectly safe to drink but it’s generally safe and healthy to consume.
- If your tap water tastes bad or you have concerns about specific contaminants then consider installing a water filter
- The best water filter for Australia is TAPP 2 is available to purchase on tappwater.com.au
- Avoid bottled water as it’s neither healthier or safer than tap water and it’s really bad for the planet
Contact us if you have comments or questions. Our goal is to be transparent and scientific about tap water and water filters. We are constantly striving to improve the content on our pages.