Queensland environmental values (EVs) and water quality objectives (WQOs)
Description and method logic
The Queensland Government works with communities (including industry and commerce sectors) in partnership with Regional Natural Resource Management (NRM) groups and local governments to develop environmental values (EVs) and water quality objectives (WQOs) for Queensland waters. Once approved by Government, these become a point of reference for water quality in Queensland.
EVs for water are the qualities that make it suitable for supporting aquatic ecosystems and human uses. EVs define the human uses of the water, (such as drinking water, irrigation, aquaculture, recreation, cultural/spiritual values), and aquatic ecosystem health. Several EVs may be identified for a particular water, and different waters may have different combinations of EVs. Stakeholder input is an important component of the process to identify EVs. Aquatic ecosystem health is an EV of all Queensland waters.
Water quality guidelines are technically derived numerical measures (e.g. concentrations) or descriptive statements to protect EVs. They are based on best-available science, local water quality data (where available) and form the technical basis for water quality objectives (WQOs). Examples of national guidelines include Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality, and those by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHRMC), e.g. for recreation and drinking waters. An example of state guidelines is the Queensland Water Quality Guidelines.
Water quality objectives (WQOs) are the quantitative measures or narrative statements established to protect the EVs of waters. WQOs are derived from site-specific scientific studies, technical guideline sources (refer paragraph above), and other documents published by recognised entities. They may be modified by social and economic factors.
Water quality data from various sources (e.g. government, science providers, industry, NRM bodies) is collected and reviewed as part of the process to establish local WQOs.
EVs are identified to protect waters from the effects of habitat alteration, waste releases, contaminated runoff and changed flows, to ensure healthy aquatic ecosystems and waterways that are safe for community use. All tidal and non-tidal waters, including wetlands, lakes and groundwater, have EVs. The suite of EVs is listed in the following section. Aquatic ecosystem health is an EV of all Queensland waters.
For the aquatic ecosystem EV, there are four levels of protection according to the current condition of the waters being assessed, i.e. high ecological value (HEV), slightly disturbed (SD), moderately disturbed (MD) and highly disturbed (HD). Each level of protection is assigned a specific management intent. For HEV waters, the management intent is to maintain natural values/condition, and WQOs are set accordingly. For waters identified as slightly disturbed, the intent is to progressively improve them towards the HEV condition.
WQOs are expressed in various ways, including concentrations, loads (e.g. tonnes/year), and biological measures. Subject to available data, the WQOs may define measures for the physical and chemical characteristics of the water, such as nitrogen content, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, toxicants (e.g. metals, pesticides), and biological characteristics such as in-stream biota (fish, macroinvertebrates, aquatic macrophytes), seagrass extent and distribution, coral extent and distribution, and groundwater stygofauna.
Criteria groupings of the method
Different EVs may have different water quality indicators of relevance. For the Aquatic Ecosystem EV, indicators include:
Additional considerations include:
Waterway uses and values are identified based on stakeholder inputs, land and water use information and other applicable sources. Ecosystem and habitat information is reviewed from available sources.
Water quality data needs to meet certain quality assurance/quality control standards if they are to be used in the EVs/WQOs process. These are established in the Queensland water monitoring and sampling manual (see links below), which is the primary reference document in Queensland covering physico-chemical and biological monitoring and analysis activities.
Water quality datasets are analysed, categorised and used in derivation of water quality guidelines, in accordance with the draft guide Deciding aquatic ecosystem indicators and local water quality guidelines (see links below).
The development of the EVs and WQOs requires local stakeholder input, high level expert knowledge, spatial and non-spatial data, statistical analyses, assessment, database management and consultation.
A database platform for data storage, manipulation and values assessment, a Geographic Information System (GIS) platform for result presentation and interpretation.
EVs and WQOs for a defined area, including mapping supported by GIS files. These are available from the DES Environmental Protection (Water and Wetland Biodiversity) Policy website (also see Case studies section below).
Criteria by category
Outputs relevant to natural resource managers including regional NRM bodies, State government agencies, Local government, consultants, water corporations and industry.
Processes to establish EVs and WQOs have been undertaken throughout Queensland. In some instances, these have firstly been undertaken by NRM bodies (or other parties) in collaboration with stakeholders as a part of regional water quality improvement plans (in Great Barrier Reef catchments) and healthy waters management plans (e.g. in Qld Murray Darling Basin catchments). In addition to EVs and WQOs, these regional plans summarise water quality issues, consultations undertaken and actions to improve water quality. Further guidance on the scope of these plans is available from the Healthy waters for Queensland: Environmental values, management goals and water quality objectives (see links below). To access completed water quality plans across various regions, refer to the Water Quality Improvement Plans (WQIPs) and Healthy Waters Management Plans (HWMPs) (see links below). The EVs and WQOs in these plans forms a basis for EVs/WQOs progression through to legislation (with amendments as required).
Once EVs and WQOs are finalised for a project area, they are submitted for Government consideration. If approved by Government, they are then included under schedule 1 of the Environmental Protection (Water and Wetland Biodiversity) Policy. EVs and WQOs and mapping have been completed for various Queensland regions.
Last updated: 27 January 2021
This page should be cited as:
Department of Environment and Science, Queensland (2021) Queensland environmental values (EVs) and water quality objectives (WQOs), WetlandInfo website, accessed 2 February 2022. Available at: https://wetlandinfo.des.qld.gov.au/wetlands/resources/tools/assessment-search-tool/queensland-environmental-values-evs-and-water-quality-objectives-wqos/