1. Water Quality
  2. Water Quality Guidelines
  3. Monitoring
  4. Monitoring for typical uses of the framework

Monitoring for 7 typical uses of the framework

​​Application of the monitoring process for water quality — and the relative importance of the steps within the process — depends on the water quality issues that need to be managed.

The Water Quality Guidelines provide examples of the Water Quality Management Framework applied to 7 typical uses. Monitoring plays a significant role throughout the framework so we have summarised specific monitoring considerations for these typical uses.

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Developing a water quality management plan

Water quality management plans are often required for specific geographical areas, or to address specific issues in those areas. This includes catchment action plans and regional studies. These plans typically have a strong strategic purpose and depend on monitoring to:

  • help set meaningful water quality objectives
  • track progress towards those objectives
  • identify key threats to water quality
  • drive the adaptive management of those plans.

An example is a water quality improvement plan to reduce the export of sediment, nutrients and pesticides in catchments that lead to the Great Barrier Reef.

Steps in the framework related to monitoring

Step 1 — Examine current understanding
  • Examine the current understanding of the system and summarise it as a conceptual model. Some information may come from the synthesis of existing monitoring data and knowledge. Our guidance on monitoring program objectives will help you complete these tasks.
  • If additional monitoring is required to provide a snapshot of the condition and those factors that may influence condition, then you may need to design a monitoring study.
Step 3 — Define relevant indicators
  • Select indicators to be monitored as part of a water quality management plan, as well as when, where and how they will be sampled. Monitoring may be useful in testing and validating those indicators, and refining the sampling methodologies used, for example, when a required level of sensitivity is found to be impractical. Our review of study designs is a good place to start.
Step 4 — Determine water/sediment quality guideline values
  • Set water/sediment quality guideline values for each of the physical, chemical and biological indicators relevant to the water quality management plan. Our advice on data analysis will guide you through this process.
  • Monitoring data underpins the derivation of those guideline values, whether they be based on locally relevant (e.g. site-specific, catchment) data or more regional default guideline values (DGVs).
Step 6 — Assess if draft water/sediment quality objectives are met
  • After guideline values are determined, use monitoring data for each relevant indicator to assess condition and changes against those water/sediment quality objectives. Our advice on data analysis will guide you through this assessment.
  • In some cases, monitoring programs for the proposed indicators may not already be in place and you will need to design a monitoring study.

Water quality management plans are often focused on a particular issue so the background understanding and context is typically known, and the monitoring emphasis is more on setting guideline values (Step 4) and assessing against them (Step 6).

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Applying for a development approval

As part of an environmental impact statement or equivalent, monitoring data is used to:

  • characterise the background spatiotemporal variation in water quality
  • understand the existing drivers and pressures on that water quality.

Monitoring data may also support important process models developed as part of the approvals process. For example, it may be used to support or calibrate hydrological models.

Design for how any change to water quality following development will be assessed against pre-development conditions.

Steps in the framework related to monitoring

Step 1 — Examine current understanding
  • Examine the current understanding and ecosystem condition of the system prior to development. Our guidance on monitoring program objectives will help you complete these tasks.
  • Some information may come from the synthesis of existing monitoring data and knowledge. Our advice on data analysis will assist you.
  • If additional monitoring is required to provide a snapshot of the condition and factors that may influence condition, then you may need to design a monitoring study.
Step 3 — Define relevant indicators
  • Consider indicators that may be monitored as part of the development. This could include the when, where and how they will be sampled, outlined in our review of study designs.
  • This step is important because it reflects the stressor conceptual model (developed when setting monitoring program objectives) and the consideration of any changes that development may potentially cause.

If you are assessing or regulating developments, then monitoring will be particularly useful for Step 3, as well as Steps 4 and 6.

Step 4 — Determine water/sediment quality guideline values
  • Set water/sediment quality guideline values for each of the relevant physical, chemical and biological indicators that need to be tracked as part of the development. Our advice on data analysis will guide you through this assessment.
Step 6 — Assess if draft water/sediment quality objectives are met
  • Use monitoring as the basis for assessment of condition and changes against those guideline values and objectives. Our advice on data analysis will guide you through this assessment.

See also:

Assessing a waste discharge

Assessment of water quality against specific guideline values requires monitoring data, often with a strong focus on compliance. For example, assessing compliance with criteria specified as part of a waste discharge license.

Regulations commonly require routine monitoring and tracking of waste discharged to aquatic environments from industries. For example, the discharge from a gold mine to a local stream under high flow conditions may need to meet important water quality criteria.

Steps in the framework related to monitoring

Step 4 — Determine water/sediment quality guideline values
  • Set water/sediment quality guideline values for each of the physical, chemical and biological indicators relevant to the waste discharge and the aquatic values that need to be protected. Our advice on data analysis will guide you through this process.
  • Monitoring data underpins the derivation of those guideline values, whether they are based on locally relevant (e.g. site-specific, catchment) data or more regional DGVs.
Step 6 — Assess if draft water/sediment quality objectives are met
  • After guideline values are determined, use monitoring data for each relevant indicator to assess compliance with water/sediment quality objectives. Our advice on data analysis will guide you through this process.
  • In some cases, monitoring programs for the proposed indicators may not already be in place and you will need to design a monitoring study.

See also:

Investigating an unexpected event

Assessment of monitoring data following the detection of an event (e.g. unexplained fish kills) or an unexpected trend (e.g. increase in turbidity) to identify potential sources or drivers of that event or trend.

Data analysis methods that consider multiple indicators and the dependencies between them may be particularly useful.

Steps in the framework related to monitoring

Step 1 — Examine current understanding
  • Examine the current understanding and ecosystem condition after the unexpected event. Our guidance on monitoring program objectives will help you complete these tasks.
  • Some information may come from the synthesis of existing monitoring data and knowledge. Our advice on data analysis will assist you.
  • If additional monitoring is required to provide a snapshot of the condition and those factors that may have influenced that condition, then you may need to design a monitoring study.
Step 3 — Define relevant indicators
  • Consider indicators that may be monitored as part of understanding the drivers and pressures that may have given rise to the event.
  • This step involves consideration of the stressor conceptual model (developed when setting monitoring program objectives).
  • Identifies the what, when, where and how monitoring should occur into the future to improve system understanding, outlined in our review of study designs.

If mitigation or remediation options are undertaken after the unexplained event, then the associated ongoing monitoring may form part of a water quality management plan or remediation study.

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Assessing a remediation study

A remediation study typically needs to track progress towards achieving water quality objectives after some management intervention or change in practice. Water quality monitoring data can be used to track such progress, and to assess both the current status (condition) of water quality and trends in that condition.

For example, if there is a need to reduce nitrogen inputs to a receiving water body, monitoring close to the pollutant source may be important to track improvements after implementing changes to land management practices.

Steps in the framework related to monitoring

Step 3 — Define relevant indicators
Step 4 — Determine water/sediment quality guideline values
  • Set water/sediment quality guideline values for each of the physical, chemical and biological indicators relevant to the remediation study that reflect the aquatic values that need to be improved. Our advice on data analysis will guide you through this process.
  • Monitoring data underpins the derivation of those guideline values, whether they are based on locally relevant (e.g. site-specific, catchment) data or more regional DGVs.
Step 6 — Assess if draft water/sediment quality objectives are met
  • After guideline values are determined, use monitoring data for each relevant indicator to assess compliance with water/sediment quality objectives. Our advice on data analysis will guide you though this process.
  • In some cases, monitoring programs for the proposed indicators may not already be in place and you will need to design a monitoring study.

It may be necessary to synthesise the current understanding and ecosystem condition of the system prior to remediation (Step 1). Often that has already occurred and has driven the need for the remediation study in the first place.

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Conducting a baseline study

Water quality monitoring data can be used to:

  • characterise the background spatiotemporal variation in water quality
  • understand the existing drivers and pressures on water quality
  • set water quality objectives and guideline values to maintain water quality.

Steps in the framework related to monitoring

Step 1 — Examine current understanding
  • Examine the current understanding and ecosystem condition of the system at one point in time. Some information may come from the synthesis of existing monitoring data and knowledge. Our guidance on monitoring program objectives will help you complete this task.
  • If additional monitoring is required to provide a snapshot of the condition and those factors that may influence condition, then you may need to design a monitoring study.
Step 3 — Define relevant indicators
  • While possibly less important at the outset of the baseline study, consider indicators that may be monitored in the context of underlying conceptual models and the possible drivers or stressors of water quality. Our review of study designs is a good place to start.

See also:

Implementing a broadscale monitoring program

Broadscale monitoring programs, such as state of the environment reporting or a River Murray water quality monitoring program, are ongoing and require consideration of all aspects of monitoring.

Steps in the framework related to monitoring

Step 1 — Examine current understanding
  • Before implementing a broadscale monitoring program, examine the ecosystem condition and the current understanding of the system through conceptual models. Some information may come from the synthesis of existing monitoring data and knowledge. Our guidance on monitoring program objectives will help you complete these tasks.
  • If additional monitoring is required to provide a snapshot of the condition and those factors that may influence condition, then you may need to design a monitoring study.
Step 3 — Define relevant indicators
  • Select indicators to be monitored as part of the broadscale monitoring program, as well as identifying when, where and how they will be sampled. Our review of study designs is a good place to start.
  • Monitoring may be useful to test and validate those indicators, and refine the sampling methodologies (e.g. when a required level of sensitivity is found to be impractical). This may occur as part of a pilot version of the monitoring program.
Step 4 — Determine water/sediment quality guideline values
  • Set water/sediment quality guideline values for each of the physical, chemical and biological indicators relevant to the water quality management plan. Our advice on data analysis will guide you through this process.
  • Monitoring data underpins the derivation of those guideline values, whether they are based on locally relevant (e.g. site-specific, catchment) data or more regional DGVs.
Step 6 — Assess if draft water/sediment quality objectives are met
  • After guideline values are determined, use monitoring data for each relevant indicator to assess condition and changes against the water/sediment quality objectives. Our advice on data analysis will guide you through this process.
  • In many cases, monitoring programs will need to be initiated to provide these data and you will need to design a monitoring study.

Key features of broadscale monitoring programs include their adaptive management and how knowledge generated from the existing monitoring and its analysis is embedded in updates to the monitoring objectives.

See also:

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