History of the Water Quality Guidelines

​​The first Australian water quality guidelines were published under the direction of the Australian Water Resources Council (Hart 1974).

Under the control of the Australia and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council (ANZECC), the first Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality were published in 1992. This document was produced in parallel with the initial development of Australia’s National Water Quality Management Strategy. These are the only water-related guidelines in the strategy that Australia worked jointly on with New Zealand.

ANZECC & ARMCANZ (2000) guidelines

ANZECC in conjunction with the Agriculture and Resource Management Council of Australia and New Zealand (ARMCANZ) revised the ANZECC (1992) guidelines in 2000, to reflect 3 important advances between 1992 and 2000:

  • major policy initiatives at all levels of government that increased the focus of attention on ecologically sustainable management of water resources in Australia and New Zealand
  • trend towards a more holistic approach to the management of aquatic systems
  • increased use of biological indicators to assess and monitor the 'health' of aquatic ecosystems.

Outcomes from some major environmental studies and research activities led to significant advances in our knowledge about water quality, its drivers and its impacts.

Key changes in direction taken by ANZECC & ARMCANZ (2000) included:

  • development of default water quality guideline values for the protection of different types of primary industries and recognition of indigenous cultural and spiritual values
  • refinement of the National Water Quality Management Strategy to provide greater focus on local environmental conditions, allowing water quality guidelines values to be tailored to specific sites or regions and for different levels of protection for different ecosystem conditions
  • a risk-based approach for applying guideline values for protecting aquatic ecosystems that integrated water and sediment quality with biological responses
  • updated methods for determining guideline values for ecosystem protection in the light of increased understanding of ecosystems and improving technologies
  • greater focus on issue-based management of water quality
  • increased focus on monitoring and assessment protocols for collecting and assessing water quality data against the guideline values.

Decision to revise ANZECC & ARMCANZ (2000) guidelines

In 2009, the Australian and New Zealand ministers for Environment and Natural Resources gave approval to revise the ANZECC & ARMCANZ (2000) guidelines in recognition of its role as a key resource for managing water quality and protecting community values, including aquatic ecosystems in Australia and New Zealand.

The ANZECC & ARMCANZ (2000) guidelines were considered dated, with some underlying data, relevant literature and other information dated back to 1996. Specifically:

  • databases used to derive guideline values for toxicants and sediments, aquaculture and human consumers of aquatic foods only included information available to late 1996
  • default guideline values for physical and chemical stressors were derived from data to early 2000
  • guidance for biological indicators used for monitoring and assessment, and supporting text for physical and chemical stressors, included information available to late 1998
  • default guideline values for agricultural water uses included information available to early 2000.

Additionally, new and improved techniques were available for establishing guideline values and for monitoring and assessment.

Staged approach to the revision

At the beginning of the revision process, users identified aspects of the ANZECC & ARMCANZ (2000) guidelines that could be changed or added to improve their usability. These are included in Improvements since 2000.

An inter-jurisdictional Joint Steering Committee was established to provide strategic direction for the revision, which was to be completed in 3 phases.

Phase 1

Completion of high priority and relatively straightforward revisions identified during initial stakeholder consultations:

  • sediment quality guidelines updated
  • nitrate (in freshwater) toxicant guideline value updated
  • manganese (in marine water) and boron toxicant guideline values updated.

Phase 1 of the revision set the framework and work plan for Phase 2, based on stakeholder consultation and recommendations from technical working groups.

Phase 2

This represented the major revision period; refer to details of the improved elements.

Phase 3

In the future, it is anticipated that the Water Quality Guidelines will undergo regular maintenance and updating to ensure they maintain their relevance.


ANZECC 1992, Australian Water Quality Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Waters, Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council, Canberra.

ANZECC & ARMCANZ 2000, Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality, Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council and Agriculture and Resource Management Council of Australia and New Zealand, Canberra.

Hart, Barry T & Australian Water Resources Council 1974, A Compilation of Australian Water Quality Criteria, Australian Government Publishing Service for the Department of the Environment and Conservation on behalf of the Australian Water Resources Council, Canberra.