Version 1, December 2002
Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts
1 December 2002
- The Framework for Marine and Estuarine Water Quality Protection: A Reference Document (PDF - 408 KB) | (RTF - 1,310 KB)
Background and Purpose
Land-based impacts on the marine and estuarine environment
It is estimated that some 80 percent of coastal and marine water quality impairment world-wide is caused by broad scale land use activities (UNEP 1995; Zann 1995). Land-based activities such as urban and industrial and agricultural development can have significant detrimental effects on marine and estuarine environments by contributing suspended sediment, nutrients, pathogens, heavy metals and other pollutants (UNEP 1995; Zann 1995). Some of the adverse effects of land use on the marine environment in Australia can be seen in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area where excessive nutrients, sediments and chemical pollutants are impacting on coral communities and seagrass beds (GBRMPA 2001). Declining water quality in the reef has the potential to affect the reef ecosystems, tourism, recreation and commercial fishing (GBRMPA 2001).
The Global Program of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA) was initiated under the United Nations Environment Programme and is aimed at preventing the degradation of the marine environment from land-based activities at the national and regional levels with coordination at the global level (UNEP 1995). The GPA targets sewage, persistent organic pollutants (POPs), radioactive substances, heavy metals, oils (hydrocarbons), nutrients, sediment, litter and physical alteration of habitats (UNEP 1995). The GPA was adopted in 1995 by 108 governments, including Australia.
Water quality management in Australia
The Commonwealth is committed to protecting Australia's fresh and marine waters through development and implementation the National Water Quality Management Strategy (NWQMS). The key objective of the strategy is:
- To achieve sustainable use of the nation's water resources by protecting and enhancing their quality while maintaining economic and social development.
The NWQMS was jointly developed by two Ministerial Councils - the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council (ANZECC, now the Environment Protection and Heritage Council, EPHC) and the Agriculture and Resources Management Council of Australia and New Zealand (ARMCANZ, now the Natural Resource Management Council, NRMC). The Strategy provides a nationally consistent approach to water quality management, and the information and tools to help water resource managers, planning and management agencies, regulatory agencies and community groups manage and protect their water resources.
The NWQMS consists of some 21 guideline documents which broadly cover - ambient and drinking water quality, monitoring, groundwater, rural land uses and water quality, stormwater, sewerage systems and effluent management for specific industries. Two new publications were released in 2001:
- Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality (2000) - referred to here as the Water Quality Guidelines; and
- Australian Guidelines for Water Quality Monitoring and Reporting (2000)- referred to here as the Monitoring Guidelines.
These publications provide a new approach for deriving water quality guidelines, objectives and targets. They provide highly detailed and comprehensive information for water quality monitoring and management in Australia and New Zealand.
To protect the nation's marine environment from the adverse effects of land-based activities, the Framework for Marine and Estuarine Water Quality Protection (the Framework) has been developed. The Framework which implements key elements of the National Strategy and provide a nationally consistent approach to coastal water quality protection. In particular, this framework guides development of Water Quality Improvement Plans (WQIP) for key coastal waterways ('hotspots'), threatened by pollution.
The Framework focus is environmental protection through the reduction of land-based pollution. The key components of the Framework include identification of:
- the environmental values of those coastal waters (section 4);
- the water quality issues and pollutants of concern (section 5);
- water quality objectives for the coastal waters (section 5);
- the total maximum pollutant loads required to meet the water quality objectives (section 6);
- the allocation of pollutant loads to diffuse and point sources (section 6);
- river flow objectives (section 7)
- management measures and control actions, their time lines and costs (section 8) to protect the designated environmental values and objectives; and
- a monitoring, evaluation and reporting program (section 13).
A stepwise or phased approach can be used to guide setting of interim targets and implementation of management measures and control actions to ensure attainment and maintenance of water quality and river flow objectives over the longer term.
The Commonwealth will give effect to the Framework through Commonwealth-State arrangements for specific coastal waters. It is anticipated that preparation of WQIPs may take up to 18 months.
The purpose of this document is to explain the key elements of the Framework and to guide the preparation of WQIPs. Suggested reporting requirements are included to give examples of the information that should be included in a WQIP.