State of the Environment Report 2009
Sustainable Yield

Indicator description

Sustainable yield is the difference between annual median flow and the estimated environmental flow. The sustainable yield of a groundwater or surface water system refers to the volume and/or rate of water that can be extracted from that system while maintaining an acceptable level of aquatic ecosystem health. The National Water Initiative defines sustainable yield as the level of water extraction from a particular system that, if exceeded, would compromise key environmental assets, or ecosystem functions and the productive base of the resource.

Why is it indicative?

The sustainable yield can indicate environmental stress on an aquatic ecosystem if water extraction is greater than the sustainable yield. It may also be useful to highlight those catchments where there is scope to increase water allocation.

Data availability and limitations

The data for this indicator have been provided by DPIPWE (Internal link2006). Sustainable yield estimates are not available for catchments controlled by Hydro Tasmania. This applies to 8 of the 48 (17%) planning and management catchments in Tasmania, namely: Ouse, Upper Derwent, Lower Derwent, Gordon – Franklin, King – Henty, Pieman, Great Lake, and Brumbys Lake. Sustainable yield estimates have not been calculated for an additional 7 catchments, namely: Furneaux, Derwent Estuary – Bruny, Port Davey, Wanderer – Giblin, Nelson Bay, King Island, and Tamar Estuary. Two of these catchments, Port Davey and Wanderer – Giblin, are in the southwest WHA.

As noted in the description of this indicator, sustainable yield in Tasmania is defined as the difference between annual median flow and the estimated environmental flow. Work to improve the understanding of environmental flows is continuing in Tasmania and this will influence sustainable yield estimates such as those detailed in this indicator. The Water Resources Division of DPIPWE has developed a theoretical framework to assess environmental water requirements of ecosystems. More information on this framework is available from the External linkThe Tasmanian Environmental Flows Project Framework.

Sustainable yields need to be reviewed, for example, if step changes in streamflow occur as a consequence of prolonged drought (Internal linkStreamflow).

The data and analysis is simplified both in relation to time and scale. In particular, it does not identify seasonal variations such as allocations in summer time when it is more likely that rivers will experience stress. On a localised or sub-catchment scale many additional rivers may experience over-allocation.

A further caveat is that sustainable yield estimates are based on median average annual water yields and as such represent the average amount of water expected in the catchment 1 year in every 2. This amount of water is unlikely to be available annually in Tasmania. Accordingly, over-allocation of the sustainable yield is likely to be under reported in some catchments in this indicator.

The data in this indicator also pre-dated significant recent declines in rainfall over the reporting period for this SoE from 2003–08. Different analysis tools and criteria can produce significantly different results. For example, based on an 80% reliability criterion and better accounting for the more recent drought conditions during the reporting period, the sustainable yield for the Macquarie catchment was estimated to be 17,000 Ml/yr (unpublished DPIPWE data). This is in contrast with the sustainable yield for the Macquarie catchment of 300,665 ML/yr referred to in the indicator.

The disparity between the estimates also needs to be understood from the point of view that small changes in rainfall—and the reliability of that rainfall—can have significant impacts on streamflow and sustainable yield. A key conclusion of a 2002 paper is that changes in rainfall are amplified in runoff. In temperate catchments the percentage change in runoff is about twice the percentage change in rainfall. In ephemeral catchments with low runoff coefficients the percentage change in runoff can be more than four times the percentage change in rainfall (Internal linkChiew and McMahon 2002). Therefore, a key limitation with sustainable yield is how to define it or measure it in the context of climate change with the potential for system changes in water availability. The Climate Futures Program in Tasmania provides a key tool in understanding and anticipating these system changes in yield.


Sustainable yield for planning and management catchments

The following table shows sustainable yield estimates for Tasmania's planning and management catchments. The table can be downloaded from the following link (Sustainable yield estimates for planning and management catchments ). Catchments with the highest sustainable yields in Tasmania were: South Esk (817,410 ML/year), Huon (640,854 ML/year), Meander (589,221 ML/year), Ringarooma (347,395 ML/year), and Macquarie (300,665 ML/year).

Sustainable yield estimates for planning and management catchments

Catchment Sustainable yield? Sustainable yield (ML/yr)
1. Furneaux No
2. Musselroe - Ansons Yes 24,958
3. George Yes 35,495
4. Scamander-Douglas Yes 11,939
5. Swan - Apsley Yes 35,620
6. Little Swanport Yes 103,241
7. Prosser Yes 137,326
8. Tasman Yes 50,177
9. Pittwater - Coal Yes 41,170
10. Jordan Yes 23,545
11. Clyde Yes 8,443
12. Ouse No*
13. Upper Derwent No*
14. Lower Derwent No*
15. Derwent Estuary - Bruny No
16. Huon Yes 640,854
17. Port Davey No
18. Wanderer - Giblin No
19. Gordon - Franklin No*
20. King - Henty No*
21. Pieman No*
22. Nelson Bay No
23. Arthur Yes 282,899
24. Welcome Yes 5,292
25. King Island No
26. Montagu Yes 27,431
27. Duck Yes 33,804
28. Black - Detention  Yes 36,035
29. Inglis Yes 23,472
30. Cam Yes 12,680
31. Emu Yes 6,192
32. Blythe Yes 8,896
33. Leven Yes 58,298
34. Forth - Wilmot Yes 107,270
35. Mersey Yes 241,681
36. Rubicon Yes 39,358
37. Meander Yes 589,221
38. Great Lake No*
39. Brumbys - Lake No*
40. Macquarie Yes 300,665
41. South Esk Yes 817,410
42. North Esk Yes 282,826
43. Tamar Estuary No
44. Pipers Yes 231,193
45. Little Forester Yes 84,717
46. Great Forester - Brid Yes 245,417
47. Boobyalla - Tomahawk Yes 101,115
48. Ringarooma Yes 347,395

Source: Internal linkDPIW 2006

This information is also shown in the following maps of sustainable yield for Tasmania's planning and management catchments. The thematic map (below left) shows sustainable yield. The interactive map (below right) displays sustainable yields where available for each catchment (this map requires External linkAdobe SVG Viewer and is only available for selected web browsers).

Sustainable yield, Planning and Management Catchmentsinternal SOE link to larger image

Sustainable yield, Planning and Management Catchmentsinternal SOE link to larger image

Sustainable yield and licenced abstraction for planning and management catchments

The following table compares sustainable yield with licenced abstraction for each of the 48 planning and management catchments. A number of caveats and limitations with this analysis are detailed above.

As shown in the table, the Emu and Clyde rivers were substantially over-allocated against sustainable yield during the reporting period from 2003–08. Further, sustainable yield estimates are based on median average annual water yields and as such represent the average amount of water expected in the catchment 1 year in every 2. Because this amount of water is unlikely to be available annually in Tasmania, over-allocation may also occur in other catchments.

Sustainable water yield and licenced abstraction by catchment

Catchment Sustainable yield (ML/yr) Licenced (ML/yr) % Allocated
1. Furneaux (b) 75
2. Musselroe - Ansons 24,958 3,125 12.5
3. George 35,495 790 2.2
4. Scamander-Douglas 11,939 590 4.9
5. Swan - Apsley 35,620 1,169 3.3
6. Little Swanport 103,241 30 0.0
7. Prosser 137,326 465 0.3
8. Tasman 50,177 110 0.2
9. Pittwater - Coal 41,170 124 0.3
10. Jordan 23,545 511 2.2
11. Clyde 8,443 11,021 130.5
12. Ouse (a) 3,423
13. Upper Derwent (a) 74,241
14. Lower Derwent (a) 175,582
15. Derwent Estuary - Bruny (b)
16. Huon 640,854 46,559 7.3
17. Port Davey (b)
18. Wanderer - Giblin (b)
19. Gordon - Franklin (a) 2
20. King - Henty (a) 4,573
21. Pieman (a) 8,986
22. Nelson Bay (b)
23. Arthur 282,899 682 0.2
24. Welcome 5,292 146 2.8
25. King Island (b) 17
26. Montagu 27,431 126 0.5
27. Duck 33,804 2,750 8.1
28. Black - Detention 36,035 1,080 3.0
29. Inglis 23,472 6,851 29.2
30. Cam 12,680 2,063 16.3
31. Emu 6,192 51,048 824.4
32. Blythe 8,896 1,274 14.3
33. Leven 58,298 5,746 9.9
34. Forth - Wilmot 107,270 9,871 9.2
35. Mersey 241,681 9,210 3.8
36. Rubicon 39,358 860 2.2
37. Meander 589,221 8,438 1.4
38. Great Lake (a)
39. Brumbys - Lake (a) 189,243
40. Macquarie 300,665 20,163 6.7
41. South Esk 817,410 30,521 3.7
42. North Esk 282,826 34,817 12.3
43. Tamar Estuary (b) 2,139
44. Pipers 231,193 127 0.1
45. Little Forester 84,717 500 0.6
46. Great Forester - Brid 245,417 36,803 15.0
47. Boobyalla - Tomahawk 101,115 1,470 1.5
48. Ringarooma 347,395 6,860 2.0

(a) Sustainable yield data is not available for Hydro Tasmania catchments.

(b) Sustainable yield has not been assessed for these catchments.

Source: Internal linkDPIW 2007 and Internal linkDPIW 2006

Related Issues

An indicator can show trends or changes that apply to one or more environmental issues. The data within an indicator is used to inform an issue report and any related recommendations. A summary of the indicator's relevance to a particular issue can be found within the 'Indicator' section of each of the linked issue reports below.

Water Quantity and UseInternal link


The data for this indicator has been provided courtesy of the Water Resources Division of the Department of Primary Industries and Water.

  External linkTasmanian Planning Commissioninternal SOE link to larger image

  Contact the Commission on:

email: External
Phone: (03) 6233 2795 (within Australia)
Fax: (03) 6233 5400 (within Australia)
Or mail to: Tasmanian Planning Commission, GPO Box 1691, Hobart, TAS, 7001, Australia


Last Modified: 1 Mar 2010
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