Philosophy and guiding principles

We have relied on the underlying philosophy and guiding principles behind the Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality to drive the process to revise the ANZECC & ARMCANZ (2000) guidelines.

Sustainable use

The Water Quality Guidelines aim to facilitate the productive and sustainable use of water resources while still maintaining the biological communities and ecological processes that the resource supports, consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development.

Integrated planning and assessment

Water quality management requires a robust planning process.

Planning and management of water quality should be coordinated with management of other stressors, such as water quantity and habitat quality (for aquatic ecosystems). This will require close alignment of water quality planning with other planning initiatives that deal with the management of water resources and ecosystem health. The exact nature of the planning requirements will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Management strategies should be developed to account for possible future risks, including climate change. It is preferable to prevent problems from occurring instead of being required to fix the damage.

It is important that management and monitoring programs consider water, sediment and biological indicators in an integrated weight-of-evidence process that gives a broader and more accurate assessment of ecosystem health.

Tailoring for local conditions

Stakeholder involvement is required to ensure the community works together to establish the community values and management goals for local and regional water resources.

For a number of community values, the water quality default guideline values (DGVs) will be applicable to various sites and situations.

For others, there are distinct advantages in tailoring guideline values to reflect local conditions. This is particularly true for:

  • the ‘protection of aquatic ecosystems’ community value, where particular endemic ecosystems may have specific requirements or where the effect of a contaminant may be influenced by another modifying factor, such as water hardness
  • irrigation, where water quality guideline values may depend on modifying factors, such as local soil type and climate.

For aquatic ecosystems, this approach has been facilitated to some degree by our revised ecoregionalisation approach (Your location) in the Water Quality Guidelines.

In all cases, derived water quality guideline values should reflect the best available science.

Cooperative best management

The Water Quality Guidelines provide a leading practice framework — the Water Quality Management Framework — for managing water quality.

Because the Water Quality Guidelines are not statutory, implementation often relies on the cooperation of all key stakeholders working together to manage the resource.

The high complexity inherent in water resources needs to be recognised and taken into account when determining management strategies.

Development of the most effective and efficient management strategies should consider the full range of options, including promotion of best management practices and economic tools, such as trading schemes and various incentives.

Wherever possible, preference should be given to source management rather than end-of-pipe solutions.

Continual improvement

The process of adaptive management occurs where objectives and strategies evolve as knowledge matures. We call this ‘learning by doing’. This approach leads to continual improvement of the waterway or water resources.

Many degraded systems may take time and resources to return to a satisfactory state. Improvement of water quality may need to be achieved in well-defined stages, until the required water quality objective is finally met.

For systems in good condition (e.g. where water quality objectives are already being met), managers are still encouraged to aim to improve the water quality rather than allowing it to degrade. Wherever possible, ambient water quality should not be allowed to degrade to the levels prescribed by the water quality objectives.