Integrated Water Resource Management in Australia: Case studies - NWQMS

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Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004

Integrated Approaches: The National Water Quality Management Strategy and the Coastal Catchments Initiative

The National Water Quality Management Strategy

The National Water Quality Management Strategy (NWQMS) was established to guide the protection and enhancement of Australia's water resources while maintaining economic and social development. The strategy is part of the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development and provides a nationally consistent approach to water quality management. The Strategy currently consists of 21 guideline documents, which provide the principles for managing key elements of the water cycle.

The NWQMS guidelines and technical papers provide guidance on many aspects of the watercycle including ambient and drinking water quality, monitoring, groundwater, rural land and water, urban stormwater, sewerage systems and effluent management for specific industries. Comprehensive National Guidelines For Water Recycling: Managing Health and Environmental Risks are currently being developed with the states and territories for completion in early 2005. As the title suggests, these new Guidelines will cover water recycling and water sensitive urban design using a risk management framework already tested on the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.

The Guidelines will supersede current guidelines for reclaimed water and urban stormwater management.

The Coastal Catchments Initiative has been developed specifically to implement the NWQMS in respect of coast water quality 'hotspots'.

For further information go to:

The Coastal Catchments Initiative

The Australian Government is committed to improving Australia's coastal waters, especially urban "hot spots". The Coastal Catchments Initiative (CCI), announced in November 2002, will seek to deliver significant reductions in the discharge of pollutants to 'hotspots', here those hotspots have been identified through agreement with relevant state jurisdictions.

The CCI is the Australian Government's primary vehicle for meetings its commitments under the UNEP's Global Program of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities, the GPA. The CCI is conceptually similar to the United State's Total Maximum Daily Load Program.

Implementation of the CCI, to be undertaken in collaboration with state environment protection agencies, is anticipated to be in three stages:

  • firstly, preparation of a Water Quality Improvement Plan (WQIP). WQIPs, prepared consistent with the Framework for Marine and Estuarine Water Quality Protection, will amongst other matters identify the most cost-effective and timely projects for investment by all parties - including the Australian Government, state and local governments, and community and environment groups. During plan preparation the CCI funds a series of interim projects designed to assist preparation of a competent plan, address institutional barriers to plan implementation or establish monitoring and decision-support systems (see case study);
  • investing in water quality projects identified through the improvement plans. The Australian Government will target projects that are most likely to deliver cost-effective water quality improvements, whilst seeking from the respective jurisdiction implementation of management strategies to sustain these improvements into the long term. Whilst funding implementation projects, the Government will also identify and support key research and development activities to meet the sophisticated requirements of this planning and management system; and
  • WQIP review and renewal. It is intended that WQIPs will be reviewed seven years from the date of accreditation.

A draft Water Quality Improvement Plan will be accredited by the Australian Government and the relevant State or local government, thereby forming an agreed approach to achieving pollutant load reductions. The Framework builds upon key elements of the National Water Quality Management Strategy (NWQMS) and the National Principles for the Provision of Water for Ecosystems.


The CCI is being implemented in partnership with Australian States, for one or more coastal water quality 'hotspot' in each jurisdiction. The Initiative sets a new benchmark in catchment management, integrating environmental flows and water quality to protect the environmental values (designated uses) of those coastal waters.

Once a critical mass of hotspots, outputs and outcomes have been achieved the Australian Government will maintain momentum through regular national workshops and conferences. The CCI will be mainstreamed in Queensland through broad application to protect water quality of the Great Barrier Reef.

Replicating the Initiative

The CCI could potentially be replicated in other countries of the world, subject to availability of adequate information on:

  • land use and pollutant export rates;
  • discharge information from industrial or agricultural point sources;
  • ambient water quality information sufficient for setting water quality objectives and end-of-river load targets;
  • the development of catchment water quality decision-support systems; and
  • the cost-effectiveness of pollutant source controls.

Case Study: Water Quality Improvement Plans and interim projects to protect coastal Ramsar wetland

The Australian Government has funded a series of related projects to protect and improve the Peel Inlet and Harvey Estuary, South West Western Australia. The projects were commenced in April 2003, and are due for completion in 2004-05. They are comprised of the following:

Project 1: Water quality improvement plan for the Peel Inlet and Harvey Estuary

This project is to develop a Water Quality Improvement Plan (WQIP) for the Peel-Harvey System. In collaboration with a community catchment council, the state EPA will identify and document the management measures, institutional reforms and associated roles and responsibilities to achieve and maintain phosphorus load targets and environmental flow objectives.

Project 2: A strategy for water sensitive design in the Peel-Harvey Catchment

This project will establish water sensitive design principles, performance standards and land-use planning prescriptions to ensure nutrient export rates from new development and subdivision is minimised and maintained to meet water quality targets set under the proposed WQIP. Proposed planning provisions, to be incorporated in local Town Planning Schemes and State planning instruments, will address urban residential, commercial, industrial and special rural development. This project will also fund development of administrative guidelines to assist planning agencies to implement the planning provisions.

Project 3: A review of Environmental Protection Regulations

This project will identify all point sources of phosphorus, and assist the State Government to review and amend environmental protection regulations so that load allocations set under the WQIP for each point source are enforced under the Environmental Protection Act 1986. A rollout strategy will be developed to license all point sources and to achieve sustainable phosphorus load allocations (see Project 7).

Project 4: A statutory decision-support system for water quality protection

The EPA will oversee development of a decision-support system (DSS) for water quality improvement. The DSS will play a valuable role in development of the WQIP, and in environment and planning decision-making (see Project 2), as well as providing a tool for priority setting and investment planning. The DSS will have statutory status to ensure a consistent approach to planning and environmental decision-making.

Project 5: Water quality monitoring program

This project will develop and implement a Water Quality Monitoring Program consistent with requirements of the National Water Quality Management Strategy. The Program, to be incorporated into the WQIP will address the range of monitoring issues required for phosphorus load management (including program design and objectives, field sampling, laboratory analysis, community based monitoring, data analysis and interpretation, and public reporting). Establishment of a comprehensive monitoring program and infrastructure will allow Governments and the community to evaluate the effectiveness of catchment management, and assess whether phosphorus load and environmental flow targets set under the WQIP are being achieved. The Monitoring Program will maximize outcomes of Projects 6, 7 and 8.

Project 6: Evaluation and implementation of agricultural best management practices (BMPs)

This project provides a legally supported approach to the implementation of BMPs for agricultural diffuse sources of phosphorus. The project will focus on identifying and describing BMPs and their cost effectiveness, using BMPs as the basis to farm planning, promoting and tracking uptake and adoption of BMPs, and modelling the effect of BMP adoption and nutrient balance. This project will allow an appreciation of the levels of BMP adoption and legal intervention required to achieve phosphorus load targets specified for the Peel-Harvey system. In combination with Project 4, this project will provide an opportunity to explore a range of land use options should unrealistic levels of BMP implementation be necessary to reach WQIP targets. BMP adoption will be pursued through a combination of market based, economic incentive and regulatory mechanisms.

Project 7: Targeted assistance to intensive agriculture

This project provides a legally supported approach to the implementation of BMPs for agricultural point sources. The project, which contributes to development of the DSS (Project 4) will include a point sources audit, an evaluation of nutrient balances and efficiencies, a description of current levels of BMP adoption, point source tracking, establishment of management targets and benchmarks, reviewing the cost effectiveness of BMPs, followed by management agreements and revised licensing (see Project 3). This approach will allow an appreciation of the levels of adoption, expenditure and institutional intervention required to achieve water quality and nutrient use efficiency targets. Funds will be targeted to improve environmental performance and licensing of dairies.

Project 8: Stock exclusion from catchment waterways

This project will see the Project Manager working with landholders and waterway managers to increase stock exclusion in key locations in the Peel Harvey coastal catchment through fencing subsidies and negotiation. Binding agreements for stock exclusion or limited access will be sought on private lands.