Environmental issues

Water quality

3. Using common protocols and benchmarks

3.1 Indicators and protocols

Across NSW, State Government agencies currently use a total of 77 indicators in their monitoring programs. These indicators can be divided into seven broad groupings such as: geomorphological, hydrological, physical, chemical, contaminants, microbiological and biological indicators (Tables 1a-1c). The majority of indicators fall into the physical/chemical and biological categories. This largely reflects the traditional nature of water monitoring work in NSW. Some of the indicators listed in the table are more commonly used than others. The indicators chosen for a monitoring program depend on the objectives of the program.

Tables 1a-1c list the preferred protocols for indicators that are currently used in State agency monitoring in NSW where a recommended method exists. When two agencies have used different protocols for the same indicator the preferred method has been selected. Protocols have been identified from the most recent nationally or internationally agreed protocols from authorities such as Standards Australia, International Standards Organisation (ISO), US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and American Public Health Association (APHA). Information on how to access these protocols is listed at section 11.2 of this document.

A number of methods in use do not yet have national or international endorsement (Table 1c); for those methods, reference is made to the relevant, current protocol for that method, usually a state agency protocol that has been peer-reviewed. Twenty-eight of the indicators (Table 1c) fall into this category. A few programs use indicators with an in-house method that has not been peer-reviewed; for this reason, these do not appear in Table 1c.

The Murray-Darling Basin Sustainable Rivers Audit is presently considering a number of indicators at a catchment scale. Once these have been tested and verified during a pilot program currently underway, they will be considered for adoption by NSW.

It is not expected that implementation of common protocols will incur additional costs, because the protocols listed in Tables 1a-1c have been adopted at a national level or are already in place within a State agency. A principle of the Interim Approach is that no additional costs are to be incurred through its implementation.

It is requested that all future monitoring programs in NSW adopt the protocols listed in Tables 1a-1c. Should an agency wish to use an alternative protocol to those listed in Tables 1a-1c, the agency must demonstrate that the alternative protocol can provide the same or superior results.

The protocols listed in Tables 1a-1c will be reviewed annually to ensure that the prescribed protocols are still the most appropriate method to use for the listed indicators. It is also likely that new indicators will be added to the list in the future.

3.2 Assessment

Benchmark or trigger values provide a standard or point of reference for assessment of indicator measurements. Where these benchmarks exist, as discussed below, they should be used for this purpose.

A majority of the indicators for physical and chemical properties and contaminants presently used in NSW can be directly compared to an environmental quality benchmark value such as the ANZECC & ARMCANZ ((2000a) trigger values or site specific trigger values developed in accordance with the ANZECC & ARMCANZ methods (see Table 1a).  Similarly, some of the biological indicators including thermotolerant coliforms, enterococci, chlorophyll-a and algal density can also be compared to benchmark values. The majority of the biological indicators and all the geomorphological and hydrological measurements cannot at this stage be compared with a benchmark because none have yet been fully developed. Currently a number of benchmarks are being developed under various programs, such as the Integrated Monitoring of Environmental Flows Program. As soon as benchmark criteria have been developed for the indicators under consideration, they will be adopted as criteria for monitoring of those indicators.

Page last updated: 26 February 2011