Relationship between monitoring process and the management framework

​Effective use of our 10-step Water Quality Management Framework depends on monitoring data, collected for various purposes. Results from water quality monitoring programs inform subsequent management actions, designed to maintain or improve current water/sediment quality.

The objective of a monitoring program — and the associated monitoring program design — will depend on which step of the framework you are in and the water quality issue being examined. Without a good understanding of the issue and an appropriate monitoring program objective, you will be unable to collect relevant data that can be fed back into the framework to help address the issue.

Monitoring data is needed for many purposes, including to:

  • refine or improve system understanding
  • establish appropriate indicators
  • derive water quality guideline values based on reference-site data
  • assess water quality against water/sediment quality objectives
  • track management actions and water quality or ecosystem response.

Different types of monitoring objectives are associated with specific steps of the framework.

Table 1 Types of monitoring program objectives for specific steps in the Water Quality Management Framework that may depend on data from water quality monitoring programs
Relevant step in the Water Quality Management Framework Examples of monitoring program objectives
Step 1 — Examine current understanding To understand waterway system processes
To understand impacts of specific activities on ecosystems (e.g. improved understanding of diffuse contaminant inputs in relation to hydrological ‘events’)
Step 3 — Define relevant indicators To establish relevant indicators (e.g. with associated hazard assessment for physical and chemical stressors)
Step 4 — Determine water/sediment quality guideline values To determine more relevant local guideline values (using local reference sites)
Step 6 — Assess if draft water/sediment quality objectives are met To determine where management practices need to protect or improve water quality (when comparing ambient water quality with draft water quality objectives)
Step 7 — Consider additional indicators or refine water/sediment quality objectives To establish more relevant water/sediment quality guideline values (by continuing or refining current monitoring and assessment, or undertaking dedicated ecotoxicological studies)
Step 8 — Consider alternative management strategies To understand effectiveness of management practices
To calibrate or validate models for predicting effectiveness of alternative management strategies
Step 10 — Implement agreed management strategy To track management actions
To track water quality or ecosystem response

For each of these objectives, a different monitoring program might be required, but in some instances, a single monitoring program will be able to serve more than one objective. The monitoring program results are fed back into the framework for decision making.

Not all these objectives will be relevant for all issues but very often, more than one monitoring program and associated dataset will be needed to address an issue.

For example, if you use multiple lines of evidence in a weight-of-evidence process to monitor and assess water quality, then you will require multiple monitoring programs to assess water/sediment quality (e.g. physical, chemical, biological monitoring).

Different aspects of the monitoring process have a greater emphasis at different places in the framework, but all aspects of the monitoring process will need some consideration whenever a monitoring program is deemed necessary.

Once the nature of the water quality issue is understood and the community values and associated management goals have been agreed (at Step 1 and Step 2 of the framework), you must set clear monitoring program objectives.

Through Step 3 to Step 5, as various lines of evidence and associated pressure, stressor and ecosystem receptor indicators are agreed, and associated water quality guideline values and then water/sediment quality objectives are determined, you need to concentrate on the study design to determine and monitor these indicators.

During this period, and as the monitoring programs get underway, you should consider:

At Step 6, data analysis becomes important as the data collected from the water/sediment quality monitoring program are analysed and compared to the water/sediment quality objectives to help determine management priorities (with the support of further monitoring and assessments at Step 8).

At Step 10, the focus turns to reporting on water quality monitoring, as the outcomes of water/sediment quality assessments and associated management actions are communicated to stakeholders.