A preliminary review of the development needs of the National Water Quality Management Strategy Guidelines 1-22
In 1992, the then Agricultural and Resource Management Council of Australia and New Zealand (ARMCANZ) and the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council (ANZECC) Ministerial Councils, endorsed the development and implementation of the National Water Quality Management Strategy (NWQMS). The NWQMS involved governments jointly developing and implementing National water quality policies, processes and guideline documents.
The NWQMS policy objective is:
to achieve sustainable use of the nation's water resources by protecting and enhancing their quality while maintaining economic and social development. This objective is being pursued through a strategy based on (currently) 22 high-status National guidelines (see Table ES1) with State-local implementation.
Fundamental to the relevance and success of the NWQMS is that it provides guidance that can be readily tailored to suit legislative and institutional arrangements across jurisdictions and the specific task being undertaken. Governments have made substantial progress in water quality management, using the NWQMS as a key reference and source of guiding policies and principles.
In response to the NWQMS initiative, the NWQMS Contact Group (the Contact Group) was formed in 1992 by the Australian Government as a jurisdictionally based group of policy and technical experts with the responsibility of developing NWQMS guideline documents. It consists of representatives from all Australian jurisdictions and New Zealand. Whilst the Contact Group has never been formally constituted, it has provided an invaluable forum to enable the progression of NWQMS issues. Implementation of the NWQMS has been initially incorporated into the requirements of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Water Reform Agenda in the nineties and is currently acknowledged in the National Water Initiative (NWI).
From time to time, components of the NWQMS guidelines have been reviewed. However, no systematic review of the NWQMS as a whole had been undertaken since its inception until the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA) recently commissioned a discussion paper on implementation of the NWQMS (Bennett, 2008). The Contact Group met in August 2008 to review the discussion paper, and consider:
- whether the NWQMS remained relevant, accessible and useful to regulators, planners and practitioners, and
- making recommendations to relevant Standing Committees and Ministerial Councils.
The Contact Group considered the Bennett (2008) paper to be a useful catalyst for discussion, but noted that to more accurately gauge the utility of the current suite of guidelines, and to inform any future guideline development, the perspectives of key stakeholder groups including the jurisdictions, water industry and local government would need to be better understood. The Contact Group Secretariat (located within DEWHA) agreed to organise a targeted consultation process to progress this matter.
Based on the evidence available, the Contact Group also determined that the underlying principles of the NWQMS have usefully informed water resource management and planning. It was noted, however, that given widespread adoption of specific guidelines on water quality management and monitoring, it was timely to assess the need to review the key guidelines (#1-8) (see Table ES1). Such a review could remove redundant material and ensure that the guidelines reflect current contextual changes and approaches in environmental, natural and water resource management, and in particular, the developments in risk management and monitoring.
The Contact Group also agreed that revisiting and updating the data and reference values was a high priority in guideline #4: Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality (2000), which is a core source (“benchmark”) document for the NWQMS as a whole. The Contact Group considered that local government should be consulted on the value of retaining and updating the detailed suite of guidelines which addressed rural land use, urban stormwater management and the treatment and management of sewage (#9-15) (see Table ES1). The Contact Group also thought that industry specific guidelines (#16-20) (see Table ES1), while useful in the past, may no longer be a necessary component of the Strategy due to industries developing their own guidelines, and that relevant peak industry bodies should be consulted to test this assessment.
Following the August 2008 Contact Group meeting, briefing papers were provided to Ministerial Councils and their Standing Committees to note:
- the preliminary findings of the review of NWQMS implementation
- that the Contact Group has commenced a review of the relevance, accessibility and utility of the NWQMS guidelines
- that the NWQMS Contact Group proposes to report to the Environment Protection and Heritage Standing Committee (EPHSC) on the outcomes of the completed review, together with any recommendations for action, including funding implications
- that if EPHSC were to agree to undertake a formal review of the NWQMS, then any products that were to be developed would need to be approved by both the Environment Protection and Heritage Council's (EPHC - Environment Ministers) and Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council (NRMMC), as well as the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)
- that the scoping of a review for guideline #4 (Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality) is more advanced than the other guidelines and a scope of works (SoW) for its review is currently being developed. Exploratory work is currently underway on the other guidelines to help determine the scope and requirements of their review, and
- that the NWQMS Contact Group is currently investigating how to best engage key stakeholders and is also developing a framework for guideline revisions.
Part of this process includes the EPHC request to undertake a gap, risk and needs analysis to determine priorities for any review of guidelines (#1-22). To this end, DEWHA has undertaken targeted consultation with over 100 stakeholders, including peak industry bodies, local governments, water utilities and regional natural resource management bodies/catchment management authorities.
DEWHA officers also researched the Department's files and associated documents for any relevant background information on each of the guideline documents. They then commissioned this report and assisted in its production. This project's purpose is to consolidate the findings of the DEWHA's internal review and research on the rationale and history of guideline development, the feedback from the targeted stakeholder consultation and the jurisdictions' feedback in the review of NWQMS implementation (Bennett, 2008). The report is then to broadly recommend one of the following four options for each guideline:
- major revision
- minor revision
- redundant to stakeholders' needs, or
- retain - no action required.
The paper will underpin advice initially to the EPHSC. This advice will also be provided to Natural Resource Management Standing Committee (NRMSC) and NHMRC for information out-of-session.