Your water quality planning

​​​​​​​Worldwide, the quality of surface and groundwater, estuarine and marine water continues to decline primarily because of human activities.

Targeted management and action by government, community and industry can reduce or reverse the decline in water quality. A consistent and supportive approach to water quality management across Australia is an important outcome of the National Water Quality Management Strategy (NWQMS).

Regional water managers, jurisdictional authorities and industry can use the tools and guidance available under the NWQMS to develop their own approaches, objectives and targets to water quality management.

Planning your approach

Effective water quality management is the result of:

  • thorough knowledge of current circumstances and arrangements
  • careful planning
  • understanding the risks to water quality (current, emerging and future, cumulative and synergistic)
  • consideration of the ecological, cultural, recreational and commercial value of your waterways.


Your water quality management plan establishes strategies and actions that you need to implement and adaptively manage to meet the water quality objectives required to protect the ecological, community, cultural and commercial values of your waterway.

Follow a case study on developing the Great Barrier Reef Protection Plan.

This demonstrates one application of the Water Quality Management Framework​ for water quality planning.


Use these tools to help you develop water quality management strategies that are consistent across jurisdictions, are based on best available science and are informed by the outcomes of other water quality plans and projects:

  • Guidelines for water quality management under the NWQMS — provide guidance for water managers, across multiple risk profiles, water types and regions. Approaches, targets and values provided in these guidelines are non-mandatory, and establish a nationally agreed framework for water quality planning and management.
  • Indigenous cultural and spiritual values of waterways — c​ase studies on active Indigenous engagement in water quality management can help you meaningfully incorporate Indigenous knowledge and aspirations into your water planning.
  • Issues affecting water quality – details key environmental and human-induced factors and events that can lead to poor water quality, with links to useful regional resources.
  • Projects and planning in other jurisdictions — water quality management plans and outcomes of projects in states and territories across Australia, which can be used to inform future planning based on similar conditions and landscapes.

Historical documents

Water Quality Targets: A Handbook was developed in 2002 to help regional water managers set environmental values and water quality targets for catchments or regions. It outlines the steps to follow to set targets based on guidance provided in the Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality (2000). This is an historical document and the information presented in it may be outdated. Request a copy of Water Quality Targets: A Handbook by using our contact form​.

Monitoring and evaluation

Water quality must be monitored regularly and the results analysed, evaluated, reported and acted upon to achieve effective and rigorous management.

Advice on the design of a comprehensive water quality monitoring program is available as part of the Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality.

Any monitoring programs resulting from this advice should be consistent with relevant local, state or territory regulations and by-laws, and be subject to appropriate quality assurance and quality control criteria.