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Understand your location

Understanding your location is the essential first step when developing a treatment train to improve agricultural water quality. Developing an understanding of the site or land unit and the sub-catchment and broader catchment, where relevant, ensures:

  • The treatment train will work towards local and regional priorities, such as landholder objectives, water quality targets and community expectations
  • The most cost-effective management interventions are identified at local and regional scales
  • The treatment system/s are selected and designed to cost-effectively treat the target pollutants
  • The design and location of the treatment system/s are suited to the physical constraints of the location and catchment
  • The treatment train does not lead to any adverse impacts on wetlands, waterways or other natural systems and does not cause flooding or damage to the production area.

Road next to drain. Photo by Queensland Government

Quick facts

systems for nutrient removal can be cheaper than on-farm practices[1], as can restoring marginal agricultural land to wetlands[3].
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.

In planning and designing a treatment train for improving water quality in agricultural production landscapes it is necessary to understand the components, processes and drivers in your site location and the sub-catchment. The components (e.g. topography, soil, vegetation) interact with processes (e.g. water regime, nutrient processes, erosion), which are influenced by drivers, such as catchment development, weather events and management practices. These give rise to the services (e.g. clean water and healthy environments) that benefit a broad range of stakeholders. Developing this understanding will help identify suitable management interventions to achieve specific outcomes.

The following components, processes and drivers 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:

Myers wetland outlet. Photo by Queensland Government.

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

Position in the landscape

The location of the site within the landscape will influence the water regime and capacity for a treatment system to intercept and treat pollutants. Sites high in the catchment/sub-catchment will generally receive water from a smaller sub-catchment area than sites on a floodplain which will be influenced by a local sub-catchment and potentially the broader catchment during flood events. The site topography, vegetation, geology, soils and even climate is likely to vary between sites high in the catchment and those lower in the catchment. The position in the landscape will therefore provide opportunities and constraints for different types and designs of treatment systems.

Water Regime

One of the most important considerations when identifying interventions for water quality improvement is the water regime of the site or land unit and its connectivity to the sub-catchment/s and broader catchment (if the site is located on a floodplain). The water regime describes where, when and how much water is present, including the timing, frequency, duration, depth and variability of the water[2] and it is influenced by the landscape characteristics, landscape hydrology and hydrological connections.


Table 1: Influence of water flows and size of the sub-catchment on treatment capacity.

Water flow

Catchment size

Size of treatment system relative to catchment

Detention time

Pollutant removal capacity

Low-moderate flow

Small sub-catchment

High treatment system:catchment ratio

Long detention time

High pollutant reduction capacity

Large sub-catchment

Low treatment system:catchment ratio

Moderate detention time

Medium-high pollutant reduction capacity

High flow

Small sub-catchment

High treatment system:catchment ratio

Moderate detention time

Medium-high pollutant reduction capacity

Large sub-catchment

Low treatment system:catchment ratio

Low detention time

Low pollutant reduction capacity

“Walking the Landscape” provides a framework for identifying environmental processes in terms of the components and processes in a catchment and can help identify the suitability of different interventions, such as treatment systems. It collates a variety of information on a catchment and can help with planning the use of treatment systems in the landscape.


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

A systematic approach for the comparative assessment of stormwater pollutant removal potentials

Water Environment Research Foundation—Critical assessment of stormwater treatment and control selection treatment

Townsville City Council—Water Sensitive Urban Design: design requirements for WSUD technologies in the coastal dry tropics

Wetland Technical Design Guideline

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


  1. ^ Christianson, L, Tyndall, J & Helmers, M (2013), 'Financial comparison of seven nitrate reduction strategies for Midwestern agricultural drainage', Water Resources and Economics, vol. 2-3, pp. 30-56.
  2. ^ Department of Environment and Conservation (2012), A guide to managing and restoring wetlands in Western Australia. [online], Department of Environment and Conservation, Perth. Available at:
  3. ^ Waltham, NJ, Wegscheidl, CJ, Smart, JCR, Volders, A, Hasan, S & Waterhouse, J (2017), Scoping land conversion options for high DIN risk, low-lying sugarcane, to alternative use for water quality improvement in Wet Tropics catchments. Report to the National Environmental Science Programme.. [online], Reef and Rainforest Research Centre Limited, Cairns. Available at:

Last updated: 5 October 2018

This page should be cited as:

Department of Environment and Science, Queensland (2018) Understand your location, WetlandInfo website, accessed 13 May 2021. Available at:

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment and Science