Guidelines for water quality management

Guidelines for the management of water quality in Australia were developed as part of the National Water Quality Management Strategy (NWQMS). Guideline documents provide information tailored to meet the needs of water quality managers in achieving quality and supply of water that is fit for purpose.

Values, targets and actions in these guidelines are not mandatory, but support a nationally-agreed framework for water quality planning and management.

Guideline documents may be added, revised or removed over time to maintain currency and address changing conditions and needs. For more information about how this is done read the Standard Operating Procedure for Guideline Management.

Guidance on dealing with common issues affecting water quality can also help you to develop an approach to managing water.

Developing new guidelines

If you are developing a new guideline where existing guidance does not extend to a particular area of water quality management, consider proposing it for inclusion under the NWQMS.

Including new guidelines under the NWQMS helps to foster a national approach to water quality management, reducing unnecessary duplication and inconsistencies across regions and borders.

Read the NWQMS guidance on Design and Requirements for a New Guideline.

Existing guidelines

Water quality managers, local government environment officers, farmers and irrigators, and jurisdictional authorities can use these guidelines to develop a local or regional water quality management plan.

The general public can also access the guidelines to understand the framework that may have informed your local policies and regulations.

Drinking water

Drinking water safety is the responsibility of catchment and water resource managers, drinking water suppliers, water regulators, and health authorities, but it is also a topic of interest to the general public.

The Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (2011) - Updated November 2018 establish non-mandatory standards for the management and supply of safe drinking water, based on the best available scientific evidence.

All agencies involved in the supply of drinking water can use the drinking water guidelines to develop processes that assure the safety and aesthetic value of drinking water.

These guidelines are managed by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Effluent management

Discharge of effluent, or treated wastewater, into waterways needs to be carefully managed to mitigate risks to the environment and to public health.

Regulatory authorities, local government, and industry can use the Effluent Management in Australia (historical guidelines) to develop effective management, monitoring and reporting activities at the local level.

Fresh and marine water quality

Management of water quality for natural and semi-natural water resources is guided by the Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality (Water Quality Guidelines)​.

Revised in 2018, the Water Quality Guidelines are now presented in an interactive online platform.

The Water Quality Guidelines provide authoritative guidance that water managers can use for water quality planning, approvals, licensing and compliance, monitoring and assessment. The guidance and guidelines values in the Water Quality Guidelines are not mandatory.​


Groundwater is an important resource for water dependent ecosystems, surface streamflow, drinking water supplies, irrigation and industrial development. Increasing demand and a drying climate is placing pressure on some groundwater resources.

Protection of groundwater quality is an essential part of protecting healthy ecosystems to maintain environmental processes and values and allow for future community and economic development.

State and territory governments can use the Guidelines for Groundwater Quality Protection in Australia as a tool to develop policy and regulation that:

  • provides a consistent approach across jurisdictions that is relevant to local or regional scales
  • supports both environmental protection and economic development​.

Recreational water

Natural and artificial hazards in coastal, estuarine and fresh waters that are used for recreation can pose risks to human health and the social or environmental value of waterways.

The Guidelines for Managing Risks in Recreational Water are a tool for state and territory governments to develop legislation and standards appropriate to their area, to assure the safe management of recreational water.

These guidelines are managed by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Recycled water

Recycled water can provide a beneficial alternative source of water, helping to mitigate water shortages due to climate variability and increases in population.

Use of recycled water requires careful management and community education about its safety and usage.

The Australian Guidelines for Water Recycling provide water managers with a reference for developing safe and sustainable strategies for the recycling of water generated from sewage, grey water and stormwater.

Rural land uses

The majority of Australia’s water resources are located and used in rural environments. The availability of water has influenced the distribution of population and land use patterns, including agricultural and industrial development. Some land use practices have caused deterioration in the quality of the nation’s rivers, lakes and groundwater, particularly in rural environments.

The Rural Land Uses and Water Quality (historical guidelines)​ can be used as resource material for natural resource management, including background on issues affecting water quality in rural areas.​

Sewerage systems

Effective management of sewerage systems, from treatment to discharge or re-use is essential to protecting water quality and public health.

Regulators and sewerage authorities can use the Guidelines for Sewerage Systems to establish a framework and measures for managing domestic and commercial use of sewerage systems.

Urban stormwater management

Management of stormwater is an important aspect of water quality management activities at the catchment, waterway and local level.

The Australian Guidelines for Urban Stormwater Management (historical guidelines) aim to develop an ecologically sustainable approach to managing stormwater.

Waterway manager should also check with local authorities for more recent guidelines and requirements for managing stormwater.