Australia National Water Quality Management Strategy

The NWQMS strategy is to develop and maintain a voluntary, nationally coordinated framework, supported by all Australian governments; to facilitate water quality management for the productive and sustainable use of Australia’s water resources, and to protect community values. Australia, through the Council of Australian Governments, Australian, State and Territory governments, revised the 2000 version of the National Water Quality Management Strategy (NWQMS) in 2018. Per its charter, the Water Quality Guidelines are required to maintain currency to ensure it retains value as a national best practice tool for water quality management. Comprising 24 documents, the NWQMS consists of nationally agreed policies, guidelines, and tools to assist governments and other organizations and institutions to steward water quality while also taking account of local conditions and community values. As testament to the NWQMS’s impact, most jurisdictions have incorporated the guidelines into relevant environmental policies, plans, legislation, and/or regulations. The NWQMS addresses development, maintenance, and update of a suite of tools, and the science. It also assesses and monitors developments in policies to address:

  • Inputs or changes that reduce environmental health
  • Fragmented approaches and/or risks to environmental water quality
  • Lack of science and/or tools to inform management action

The desired outcome is effective water quality management for the delivery of fit-for-purpose water that supports community values of:

  • Aquatic ecosystems
  • Cultural and spiritual values
  • Drinking water
  • Industrial water
  • Primary industries and agriculture
  • Recreation and aesthetics
Pressure-stressor-Response on Community Values Infographic. Orange shape with white text inside: Cause or Pressures. 1) Point source of pollution such as sewage treatment plant. 2) diffuse source of pollution, such as Urban stormwater. 3) Changing water flow regimes, such as from a new dam.

Navy blue shape with white words inside. Stressor. 1) more nutrients, and hence more algal outbreaks. 2) more solid particles. 3) more salt. 4) New chemicals introduced, such as oils and pharmaceuticals. 5) less oxygen.

Purple shape with text inside: Response on CVs. 1) Fish deaths. 2) Swimming and recreation restricted. 3) Water not fit for stock animals to drink.
Pressure-Stressor-Response on Community Values (Source: Australian Government, 2018)

The Pressure–Stressor–Response on Community Values (CV), illustrated above, is an example of a tool, available through the NWQMS, that can assist water resource stakeholders in linking what is occurring in and around the water resource to the problems that have been observed.

Additionally, the NWQMS monitors and assesses its own effectiveness, as well as providing for the monitoring and assessment of water quality, i.e., “Is the NWQMS achieving its intent as a toolset?” and “Is the toolset resulting in ‘fit for purpose’ water quality?”. In summary, the NWQMS provides the foundation for, and facilitates the actual implementation and management of water quality stewardship, tailored to meet local and/or regional needs. This seems a viable approach for the challenges inherent in a landscape that is vast, and as socioeconomically and environmentally complex as Australia. More information about the NWQMS is available on the NWQMS website.