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Understand whole-of-system

The whole-of-system refers to the site or land unit, the farm, the sub-catchment and sometimes the broader catchment. A good understanding of this system is essential for developing an effective treatment train or treatment system to improve water quality, by ensuring:

  • The treatment train will meet objectives, including water quality objectives and landholder and community values and expectations
  • The most cost-effective management interventions are identified at local and regional scales
  • The treatment system/s are selected, sited and designed to cost-effectively treat the target pollutants
  • The treatment train does not lead to any adverse impacts on wetlands, waterways or other natural systems or damage to the production area.
Whole-of-System, Values-Based Framework

Quick facts

The Whole-of-System
Values-Based Framework outlines the process for identifying management actions.

Treatment systems for agriculture – Understand whole-of-system

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Newly constructed treatment wetland on a cane farm. Photo by Queensland Government

The Whole-of-System, Values-Based Framework (the Framework) involves identifying the components (e.g. soil, vegetation), and processes (e.g. water regime, nutrient processes) and how these give rise to the ecosystem services (e.g. clean water and healthy environments) that are valued by different people (stakeholders, beneficiaries). Developing this understanding will help define desired outcomes and objectives and in turn identify suitable management interventions.

These components and processes should be assessed and considered at the site (land unit) and sub-catchment scales when planning a treatment train or treatment system for water quality improvement:

  • climate, geology/soils, topography, vegetation and fauna and any potential site constraints, e.g. potential for Acid Sulfate Soils, shallow bedrock, steep site etc.
  • the water regime (hydrology) of the site (land unit) and its connectivity to the sub-catchment/s and the broader catchment (if the site is within a floodplain) at different times of the year, including barriers to flow, supplementary flows (irrigation) and other landscape modifications.
  • location and connectivity of production areas and drainage (surface, piped and groundwater) relative to natural wetlands, waterways and artificial drainage systems, including ponds and drains
  • pollutants being generated in the production system and the type and concentration in the water at the site
  • water quality objectives (refer to planning documents such as Water Quality Improvement Plans - contact the local NRM group)
  • land use, land tenure, the landholder’s objectives, farming operations and any constraints or specific issues requiring action (e.g. erosion, drainage),
  • any planning constraints, regulations or planning instruments that may restrict or support the use of treatment systems (including funding or grants available).

A table of links to information is provided to help in gathering relevant information on your location and sub-catchment.

Tips and tricks: Conducting a farm visit with the land owner or farm manager helps to identify the water regime, soils, existing water quality, production areas and issues, and importantly the land owner objectives. Visiting the farm with the owner or manager is the best way to identify potential sites for treatment systems.


In addition to the standard disclaimer located at the bottom of the page, please note the content presented is based on published knowledge of treatment systems. Many of the treatment systems described have not been trialled in different regions or land uses in Queensland. The information will be updated as new trials are conducted and monitored. If you have any additional information on treatment systems or suggestions for additional technologies contact us via the feedback link at the bottom of the page.

Additional Information

Wetland Technical Design Guideline

Wetland Management Handbook: Farm Management Systems (FMS) guidelines for managing wetlands in intensive agriculture

Last updated: 28 June 2022

This page should be cited as:

Department of Environment, Science and Innovation, Queensland (2022) Treatment systems for agriculture – Understand whole-of-system, WetlandInfo website, accessed 18 March 2024. Available at:

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment, Science and Innovation