How to use the Water Quality Guidelines

Online delivery of the Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality allows for more flexibility in how they are used.

The Water Quality Management Framework guides you through the necessary steps for planning and managing water quality or sediment quality. First-time users should start with the framework.

An experienced user can easily address an immediate task, such as finding a default guideline value (DGV).

In the Water Quality Guidelines, we have presented topics so that the context behind the DGV is not forgotten. This was sometimes a problem in the ANZECC & ARMCANZ (2000) guidelines, where users could misuse the DGVs because context and constraints around applicability were lost.

There will be instances where relevant jurisdictional information exists (for example, local guideline values, water quality management plans, community or environmental values, management goals, and water quality objectives). It is essential that these feature prominently in your water quality management journey. Water quality information for some jurisdictions has been provided for you.

The Water Quality Guidelines will be updated on an ongoing basis to incorporate important developments in science and to include new, priority information as it becomes available. You may refer to the website content change log as an up-to-date record of significant changes to the Guideline’s content, including updates to default guideline values.

Starting the journey

The journey starts with the development of conceptual models, which help to identify the pressures to water/sediment quality and the response (cause-and-effect) pathways of the waterways under consideration.

A significant step in the framework is the identification of community values and management goals for the water resource. Stakeholder involvement is considered essential to ensure that key people are engaged in setting the community values and management goals (including level of protection) for their water resources, for ongoing protection of the system or restoration of a degraded system.

To progress, appropriate water quality indicators reflecting the management goals need to be identified. This requires a good conceptual model, developed at the beginning of the framework cycle. This should guide you to identify what to measure (indicators) and with what level of precision, with potential options for management.

Key concepts:

Selecting guideline values

The Water Quality Guidelines provide detailed approaches and advice on identifying appropriate guideline values for selected indicators. These guideline values help to ensure that agreed community values and their management goals are protected.

For the protection of aquatic ecosystems, locally derived guideline values are most appropriate.

In the absence of locally derived guideline values or other jurisdictionally-legislated requirements, the Water Quality Guidelines provide DGVs for some community values for use in both Australia and New Zealand, as well as advice on tailoring DGVs to suit your local region.

The Water Quality Guidelines’ DGVs have no formal legal status, and their use is not mandatory, unless specified as being so by the relevant state, territory or local jurisdictional authority.

The Water Quality Guidelines help improve confidence in our water quality assessments by introducing a systematic approach to selecting and assessing indicators that represent a number of lines of evidence. In this way, decisions can be made on the basis of an integrated weight-of-evidence process for assessing and managing water/sediment quality.

Key concepts:

Monitoring throughout

Monitoring is intimately connected with the Water Quality Management Framework.

From the outset, the connection to monitoring is evident in setting monitoring program objectives and continues throughout the use of the framework, including:

  • guidance for consistency of indicator measurement across regions
  • recommended methods for collection, analysis and assessment of monitoring data against guideline values or water quality objectives
  • advice on when to implement management responses.

Key concept:

How it all fits together

At the core of the Water Quality Guidelines, the Water Quality Management Framework provides users with a systematic approach to the management and assessment of water quality. The framework connects all the information needed to manage water quality for natural and semi-natural water resources.

Key elements embedded in the framework are:

  • community values — identifying the values and uses of the waterways in consultation with the community
  • conceptual models — describing the current understanding of how the waterways work, the issues they face and how we manage them
  • guideline values — specifying levels of water/sediment quality that protect the community values
  • monitoring — collecting information as we go, to help manage water/sediment quality
  • stakeholder involvement — engaging with communities to manage their waterways
  • weight of evidence — evaluating information from more than one source (multiple lines of evidence) to make decisions
  • your location — using ecoregionalisation to find DGVs for physical and chemical (PC) stressors and advice relevant to specific water resources.
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