Applying the framework
We provide general guidance for applying the Water Quality Management Framework to help users understand what is required at each step.
Examine current understanding
Use current understanding to develop a conceptual model of key waterway processes,the issues they face and how we manage them. It will inform your decisions at subsequent steps in the framework.
Typically, you would hold technical and stakeholder involvement workshops to develop or refine the conceptual model. (This process is also used to establish community values and management goals at Step 2.)
To assist in the development or refinement of conceptual models, use existing data and scientific literature on current state and values of the waterway system and the impacts and management of existing activities.
Your conceptual model should show:
- key waterway processes
- pressures being managed and their associated stressors
- key ecosystem receptors that are important to the community values.
Use this knowledge at Step 3 to identify key indicators for the pressures, stressors and ecosystem receptors selected for use in a weight-of-evidence process for assessing and managing water/sediment quality.
Information at this step begins to inform the nature of your monitoring program.
Repeated cycles through the Water Quality Management Framework will improve your data and provide new information that can be used to refine conceptual models and improve current understanding.
Define community values and management goals
Community values and more specific management goals (including level of protection) for your catchment waterways will typically be established or refined at stakeholder involvement workshops.
In some cases, jurisdictions may already have prescribed community values (and possibly management goals).
You would normally complete Step 2 in parallel with the development or refinement of the conceptual model at Step 1.
Define relevant indicators
Indicators are selected for the relevant pressures identified for the waterway system, their associated stressors and anticipated ecosystem receptors. This is consistent with using multiple lines of evidence in a weight-of-evidence process for assessing and managing water/sediment quality.
We provide use-specific quality of evidence tables to assist with the selection of different lines of evidence and their indicators.
Development of conceptual models, community values and management goals at Steps 1 and 2 forms the basis of the indicator selection. Subsequent steps set objectives for these indicators and allow tracking of progress against management strategies to achieve these objectives.
You may establish monitoring at this step to:
- test and validate relevant indicators
- design and develop or refine field sampling and laboratory methodologies (e.g. associated hazard assessment for physical and chemical stressors).
Initial monitoring data may cause you to further refine the list of selected indicators, such as where monitoring for an indicator at the required level of sensitivity is found to be impractical.
Determine water/sediment quality guideline values
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. Until these are available, use the default guideline values (DGVs) but be aware that they may not represent your local system.
If possible and necessary, establish or continue monitoring programs or appropriate laboratory or field studies to derive locally relevant guideline values.
Define draft water/sediment quality objectives
To define the draft water quality objectives (or sediment quality objectives), select the guideline values and/or narrative statements 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 the W/SQOs with narrative statements to provide additional detail about the water/sediment quality that is desired or required.
At this stage, these are aspirational objectives that have not yet accounted for cultural, economic and social considerations (at Step 8).
Assess if draft water/sediment quality objectives are met
Compare the 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 assess water/sediment quality, including:
- whether or not the W/SQOs have been met
- the cause and spatial extent of any change observed.
If monitoring programs for the proposed indicators are not yet in place, then you may not have any data to compare to the draft W/SQOs. In this case, you would assess the W/SQOs at Step 9, after water quality modelling data have been generated at Step 8 to assess the alternative management strategies that were considered.
Use a weight-of-evidence process to evaluate the various lines of evidence. This process evaluates the results from multiple lines of evidence across the pressures, stressors and ecosystem receptors included in the monitoring program. 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 the seven typical uses of the Water Quality Management Framework in use-specific evaluation tables.
The resulting evaluation will usually include classifying waterways in the overall plan area 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 management should focus on maintaining or improving that quality. This will require a check of any possible improvements to management strategies at Step 8, and then implementation 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 there is conflicting evidence from separate lines of evidence).
In these cases, up to 3 options are available:
- formulate, assess and prioritise management strategies to improve water/sediment quality (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).
A weight-of-evidence evaluation may require multiple cycles of monitoring and reporting before clear outcomes are identified, and before one or more of the 3 options can be implemented.
Consider additional indicators or refine water/sediment quality objectives
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 draft 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 draft 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.
Consider alternative management strategies
Even if the water/sediment quality objectives (W/SQOs) were met, before progressing to Step 10 you can consider options for continual improvement of the management strategies to improve water/sediment quality.
If the W/SQOs have not been met, then evaluate the effectiveness of current management strategies to address the identified water/sediment quality issues and recommend possible improvements.
Formulate, assess and prioritise improved or alternative management strategies (e.g. point source discharge 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 will require robust stakeholder involvement. This should be supported by:
- relevant monitoring
- cultural, economic and social studies
- multiple objective decision support tools (where possible).
Supportive monitoring programs include those that evaluate the effectiveness of various management practice options, as well as those that improve the skill of the predictive models (e.g. better calibration and validation data).
Predictive models (e.g. catchment and receiving water models) can assist you to:
- quantify water quality improvements from alternative management strategies
- assess whether or not water quality guideline values can be met.
Assess if water/sediment quality objectives are achievable
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 have been met — or are expected to be met — by one or more of the management strategies (assessed in Step 8) and are also culturally, economically and socially acceptable, go to Step 10.
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.
- Depending on your particular application of the Water Quality Management Framework, go back and iterate through the steps 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, you could request stakeholder involvement to consider a set of incremental management goals for remediation (including level of protection). 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 in the longer term.
- In extreme cases, you may assess the pressure under consideration as having unacceptable water/sediment quality consequences. The management strategies could include:
- rejection of a development application (refer to Applying for a development approval)
- closure and/or remediation strategies for an existing development (refer to Assessing a remediation study).
Implement agreed management strategy
You have reached Step 10 because an acceptable water/sediment quality has been or can be achieved.
Implement the agreed management strategy, including a suitable and agreed adaptive management process that will include:
- action plans to implement agreed management strategies
- monitoring programs to establish baselines and track improvements in management practices
- monitoring programs to establish baselines and track improvements towards water quality objectives (for all indicators or lines of evidence).
Continual improvement of both management and monitoring should be considered at Step 10 regardless of how you reached this step.
Ongoing management, monitoring and reporting will lead to continued cycling through the Water Quality Management Framework, allowing you to incorporate improvements at all relevant steps based on knowledge gained along the way.
You will need to establish appropriate arrangements for involving and reporting to stakeholders (stakeholder involvement).