The use of a diverse range of water sources improves the security of water supply in an uncertain future. The use of alternative water sources needs to be safe, meet regulatory and environmental standards, and reflect community expectations.

Alternative water sources can be made available to maintain valued green community assets, particularly with regard to climate change and population growth.

The use of alternative water sources can help protect our environment and retain moisture in our urban landscapes for cooler, greener cities and towns.

Using alternative water sources

Alternative water sources include rainwater from your roof, storm water, treated wastewater or greywater. The use of these provides a range of benefits to our community, providing:

  • Savings on the use of drinking water;
  • Reduction in the amount of stormwater and treated wastewater that is discharged;
  • Protection of our waterways and bays; and
  • An opportunity to create greener, more liveable urban landscapes, especially in periods of climate change and drought.

Alternative water sources need to be managed to meet public health, environmental standards and to meet community expectations.

The resources on Smart Water Advice have been designed to provide you with some easy ways to use water efficiently in your home, garden and while at work.

When considering alternative water supplies, you should choose the most appropriate water source for the intended use.

Increasing community expectations for more sustainable development has meant an increased interest in treating and recycling sewage or wastewater.

Wastewater is treated to a standard that is specified for non-drinking use. Once treated, the  recycled water is delivered by water corporations to their customers through a separate (purple) pipe system that has been installed in some new developments.

Recycled water is suitable for a wide range of uses, including irrigation and toilet flushing.

More information on the use of recycled water is available at your local water corporation’s website.

It is essential that a qualified plumber undertakes the plumbing of recycled water services to ensure that there is no cross-connection to drinking water supplies.

Capturing rainwater from your roof is a great way to supply water for a range of purposes including washing clothes, flushing toilets and watering your garden.

Rainwater tanks can also help you save money on your water bill, especially if you also use other water-saving devices such as:

  • Dual-flush toilets;
  • Water-efficient showerheads;
  • Trigger nozzles; and
  • Tap timers.

Rainwater tanks can save up to 40,000 litres per household per year.

Before you purchase or install a rainwater tank there are a number of considerations to make, including:

  • Choosing the right tank for your needs;
  • Organising installation and maintenance;
  • Ensuring safety and water quality;
  • Familiarising yourself with relevant permits and regulations and
  • Ensuring the tank meets relevant Australian standards.

Safety and water quality

Ensuring the quality of water depends on correct design and installation, followed by sensible maintenance of your rainwater tank and catchment area.

When installed, your tank should be covered. Every access point, except the inlet and overflow, should be sealed. If an access point is left uncovered, it will pose a risk of children, adults and animals drowning or contaminating the water.

The inlet should incorporate a mesh cover and a strainer to keep out foreign matter, and to stop mosquitoes and other insects getting into the tank. The overflow should also be covered with an insect-proof screen.

You should not use a rainwater tank to supplement or provide your main source of drinking water, if you live in an area affected by heavy traffic, industry, incinerators and/or smelters.

For more information download the booklet, Your private drinking water supply (available below), which provides simple information to help keep your domestic drinking water supply safe and healthy.

Private drinking water supplies

If you live in a rural area of Victoria you may have your own private drinking water supply. This could be a rainwater tank connected to your roof, or a tank connected to a nearby stream, bore or well.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has developed a booklet which provides simple information to help keep your domestic drinking water supply safe and healthy

Your private drinking water supply (PDF, 1.2 MB)
Your private drinking water supply (DOCX, 25.1 KB)

Permits and regulations

Before you purchase or install a rainwater tank, check out the health, building or council regulations in your local area.

Reference: Guidance on use of rainwater tanks 3rd edition by enHealth Council

Greywater is recycled water from domestic use in the home. It includes water from baths, showers, hand basins and washing machines (preferably the final-rinse water).

Greywater from the kitchen (including dishwashers) should not be used as the concentration of food wastes and chemicals are not readily broken down by soil organisms.

Using greywater can keep your garden thriving during periods of low rainfall; however, you need to know how this affects your home, garden and environment.

If used incorrectly, greywater can damage your soil, plants or even put your family and pets at risk. This is because greywater has chemicals and bacteria in it, which with the wrong application can cause problems.

Diverting greywater

You do not need permission to divert greywater from the shower and washing machine for immediate use on the garden; however, if you are interested in a permanent greywater treatment and reuse system, you need an EPA-approved system and a permit from your local council.

Visit the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) or contact your local council for more information.

Safety first

Always use the safest source of greywater wherever possible.

The safest greywater is from the rinse cycle in your washing machine. The wash cycle is the next safest, followed by bath or shower water.

It's a good idea to stop using greywater if somebody in the household is sick with a stomach bug, measles or the flu, as this can increase the risk of other people becoming ill.

Divert water directly to the garden. This means whenever you shower or wash clothes, your garden is watered.

Don't store greywater for more than 24 hours. While it might be tempting to store the greywater in a drum or tub to use later, this is risky as bacteria in greywater can multiply rapidly.

Children and pets

Keep greywater safely out of reach of children, dogs and people by using it only on the roots of plants.

The best irrigation systems are piped underground (often using AGI Pipe or similar), although some people also use drip irrigation or put piping under mulch.

Avoid spraying or hosing with greywater. This just spreads the chemicals and bacteria around and can burn your plants.

Keeping food healthy

Food that is eaten raw should not be watered with greywater. Cooking helps protect against harmful bacteria that may end up on the surface of the plants.

Gardeners who cultivate native plants need to choose laundry detergents carefully. Make sure you buy low-phosphorous detergents, as some native plants are extremely sensitive to high phosphorus levels.

Using quality water

All plants will need laundry detergents with low salt levels (liquid detergents generally have less salt).

Too much salt is bad for you and your garden so it is important to:

  • Choose garden-friendly, biodegradable detergents and cleaners low in salt and phosphorous. Check the labels before buying these products;
  • Turn your greywater diverter off when cleaning, bleaching or washing heavily soiled items like dirty nappies;
  • Set up your irrigation system to cover as large an area as possible. The larger the area you can spread the water over, the better it dilutes any nutrients and salts in the water.

Protect local creeks and environment

Greywater must not run off your property to the street or your neighbours' property. Your neighbours have the right to lodge a complaint with your local council if it does.

Allow a strip of land between your irrigation system and the edge of your property. Ensure the irrigation is underground, drip, or under mulch to keep it safely away from people and pets.

Greywater systems may require a council permit, you are responsible to check with your local council for its requirements.

Like surface water, groundwater is a key resource for consumptive use in Victoria. It is an important part of the water cycle and, like other water resources, is affected by drought and changes in climate.