Applying for a development approval
If you are the proponent applying for a development approval, you and your consultants will need to consider potential impacts of the development on water/sediment quality to meet regulatory requirements.
The Water Quality Management Framework can help you to:
- establish the water/sediment quality objectives that must be met (to the satisfaction of the regulator) if the project is approved
- assess the potential environmental impacts of a proposal (e.g. environmental impact assessment)
- provide context for the design of models to predict potential impacts on water/sediment quality and interpret their outputs
- determine the minimum required monitoring and reporting to the relevant regulator.
Use current understanding to develop a conceptual model of how the proposed development could impact the relevant waterways. This should include the key waterway processes, the issues they face and how we manage them.
Conceptual models inform decisions at subsequent steps in the Water Quality Management Framework.
You will need existing data, scientific literature and conceptual models on the current state of the waterway and its community values, including:
- key waterway processes
- knowledge about management strategies already in place for existing pressures and stressors for the relevant waterways
- potential stressors associated with the development that could impact relevant waterways
- baseline data gathered for the environmental impact assessment (or equivalent) for the development, including knowledge of ecosystem receptors at potential risk.
For brownfields sites (existing developed areas, potentially contaminated sites), and for well-known and managed catchments or coastal zones, the regulator may have an existing conceptual model relevant to the waterways. Typically, some revision and potential collation of these conceptual models may occur through the environmental impact study review and development approval negotiations.
Public and other stakeholder involvement throughout the environmental impact assessment may provide knowledge that can add to the conceptual model.
Use the conceptual model to identify the key indicators for the pressures, stressors and ecosystem receptors that will need to be selected at Step 3 for use in a weight-of-evidence process for predicting and assessing impacts.
As the proponent, you will need to engage with the regulator to identify the community values and more specific management goals (including level of protection) for the relevant waterways. The regulator will make the final decision.
In some cases, jurisdictions may have already prescribed community values (and possibly management goals).
Where community values and management goals have not already been established for the system, the regulator will endorse a process for this to occur. This process will include stakeholder involvement, for example, through public engagement and comment during the environmental impact assessment process.
Your indicator selection should be based on the development of conceptual models (including new or existing baseline information), community values and management goals at Steps 1 and 2.
Select a mix of indicators based on:
- relevant pressures identified for the waterway
- associated stressors
- anticipated ecosystem receptors likely to be affected by construction or operation of the development.
This is consistent with using multiple lines of evidence in a weight of evidence process.
We provide use-specific quality of evidence tables to assist with the selection of different lines of evidence and their indicators.
Indicator selection may be influenced by the regulator’s default preferences for indicator consistency for waterways or activities of a similar type.
The outcomes of public comment on the environmental impact assessment will often need to be considered at Step 7 when refining indicator selection in subsequent monitoring programs for approved developments.
At this step, you can use the indicator selection to begin developing a monitoring program design for implementation post-approval.
Aspects of the baseline monitoring program and clarification of management goals can inform or contribute to the program.
In consultation with the regulator, you will determine the water/sediment quality guideline values for each of the relevant biological, chemical and physical indicators that will provide the desired level of protection (if applicable) for your management goals and protect the community values.
Where possible, derive or use locally relevant (e.g. site-specific, catchment) guideline values. If these are not available, use the default guideline values (DGVs) but be aware that they may not represent your local system.
It may be beneficial for you to continue monitoring programs to improve current understanding, including data to inform baseline condition and to derive locally relevant guideline values (at Step 7).
To define the draft water quality objectives (or sediment quality objectives), select the guideline values at Step 4 for each indicator selected at Step 3 that should ensure the protection of all identified community values and their management goals (Step 2). Choose the most stringent of the guideline values for the water/sediment quality objectives (W/SQOs).
You may supplement these W/SQOs with narrative statements to provide additional detail about the water/sediment quality that is desired or required.
Consider existing catchment or regional W/SQOs established by the regulator or in any relevant water quality management plans.
At this stage, these are aspirational objectives that have not yet accounted for cultural, economic and social considerations (see Step 8).
Compare the current water/sediment quality monitoring data for each relevant indicator with the water/sediment quality objectives (W/SQOs), together with the evidence from any additional lines of evidence.
Use the results to determine or predict whether or not the W/SQOs are currently being met before assessing the additional project impact during and after project development. This often requires further monitoring and assessment to improve characterisation of current water/sediment quality relative to the W/SQOs needed to protect the waterway’s community values and your management goals (at Step 7).
Use a weight-of-evidence process to evaluate the various lines of evidence. This process assesses results from multiple lines of evidence across the pressures, stressors and ecosystem receptors relevant to the development proposal. It is the key process by which the protection of community values is assessed.
Multiple potential outcomes are possible from a weight-of-evidence evaluation. We provide guidance on their interpretation for this use of the Water Quality Management Framework in use-specific evaluation tables.
The resulting evaluation of current water/sediment quality will usually include classifying the waterways potentially impacted by the development as:
- those that meet the W/SQOs
- those that do not meet the W/SQOs or for which adverse trends are evident
- those for which the outcome is uncertain.
The W/SQOs are deemed to be met when:
- those lines of evidence considered as essential for informing acceptable water/sediment quality are met
- results for other supporting lines of evidence are consistent with no compromise to current or future water/sediment quality.
If the W/SQOs are met, then the regulator will focus on maintaining or improving current water/sediment quality, as well as permitting sustainable development. This will require a check of any possible improvements to existing management strategies at Step 8, consideration of the development approval at Steps 8 and 9 and implementation of all strategies (including any permit for this development) at Step 10.
A weight-of-evidence evaluation will otherwise conclude that:
- W/SQOs are not met
- adverse trends are evident
- result is inconclusive (e.g. due to difficulties in obtaining sufficient good quality monitoring data or if evidence from separate lines of evidence is conflicting).
In these cases, up to 3 options are available:
- formulate, assess and prioritise management strategies to improve existing water/sediment quality or conditions for this development (if approved) (Steps 8 to 10), and/or
- reassess the appropriateness of the water/sediment quality guideline values (Step 7), and/or
- consider selection of additional or alternative indicators or lines of evidence (Step 7).
In practice, the final outcome of the iterative process from Steps 6 to 9 is typically presented in the development proposal or subsequent supplementary documents. This process is undertaken by the project proponent in consultation with the regulator.
Where sufficient baseline data are not available, Step 6 can be done once the post-assessment monitoring program has been completed to ensure enough data for assessment against the W/SQOs (e.g. conditional approval).
At this step we typically identify the need to:
- include additional relevant lines of evidence and associated indicators via Step 3, or
- improve the water/sediment quality guideline values via Step 4 and objectives via Step 5.
Additional relevant lines of evidence and associated indicators would be required if the weight-of-evidence evaluation at Step 6 showed:
- insufficient lines of evidence to make an evaluation of suitable quality, or
- one or more of the selected indicators proved impractical to implement, or failed to provide evidence of sufficient certainty or sensitivity.
- Water/sediment quality guideline values (Step 4), and hence objectives (Step 5), may need to be refined where existing guideline values are not locally relevant (e.g. overly conservative).
Studies required to refine water/sediment quality objectives or include additional lines of evidence at this step may not necessarily be lengthy, and may include:
- implementing additional monitoring
- continuation or refinement of existing monitoring
- dedicated laboratory or field-effects studies, to establish more relevant indicators or water/sediment quality guideline values.
Results of these studies are often submitted in a supplementary environment impact statement or in a revised environmental monitoring and management plan submitted for approval by the regulator.
As the proponent, you may need to submit alternative management strategies to achieve the required water/sediment quality for approval. This would include confirmation that current and predicted water/sediment quality following the development would meet water/sediment quality objectives.
Formulate, assess and prioritise alternative management strategies (e.g. point-source discharge treatment and mitigation, catchment remediation measures, industry practice changes) on the basis of environmental considerations, as well as cultural, economic and social considerations (quadruple bottom line).
Agreement on final management strategies should be supported by:
- relevant monitoring
- cultural, economic and social studies
- multiple objective decision support tools (where possible).
These alternative strategies would need to be supported by appropriate water quality predictive models.
Development of alternative management strategies would typically form part of the submitted development proposal. These strategies can also follow feedback from the regulator and other stakeholder involvement on the development proposal, as part of a supplementary environmental impact assessment, a separate report to the regulator or in a revised environmental monitoring and management plan submitted for approval by the regulator.
Your assessment of whether or not the water/sediment quality objectives (W/SQOs) are achievable is based on the information gained from Steps 6 to 8.
If the W/SQOs are expected to be met by one or more of the management strategies assessed and are also culturally, economically and socially acceptable, then the proposal is submitted for approval (go to Step 10). The W/SQOs will be a key consideration for the regulator in developing compliance limits and other relevant conditions in the development approval.
If they have not been met (e.g. costs and impacts associated with the necessary improvements to meet the W/SQOs are not acceptable), then you have 2 options to negotiate with the regulator.
- Go back and iterate through the steps of the framework to refine the components of each relevant step. For example:
- at Step 1, you can improve current understanding through knowledge gained from monitoring and assessments at Steps 7 and 8
- at Step 2, the regulator could work with you to develop an offsets strategy, in which they could include stakeholder involvement to consider a set of incremental management goals (including level of protection) for the relevant waterways, taking into account the predicted water/sediment quality improvement in current quality arising from the offsets strategy. At Step 5, this would then result in a set of incremental W/SQOs that are focused on improvement towards meeting the original management goals. This could form part of a conditional approval, whereby the development could be subsequently approved once the offsets strategy had achieved the necessary water/sediment quality improvements.
- In some cases, the proposal under consideration may be assessed to have unacceptable water/sediment quality consequences, and the development application may be rejected on this basis.
If the development proposal is approved, including the agreed water/sediment quality objectives (W/SQOs) being assessed as likely to be met, then the agreed management strategy can be implemented. This should include a suitable and agreed adaptive management process.
Monitoring and assessment programs for project construction, operation and, if necessary, decommissioning will be agreed to at this stage.
If the W/SQOs are refined or new management strategies agreed post-approval, then they will be implemented through a revised monitoring and management plan approved by the regulator.
You will need to establish appropriate arrangements for involving and reporting to stakeholders (stakeholder involvement), to the satisfaction of the regulator.