Protecting and managing water quality

We help protect the health of our waterways by supporting water quality managers to improve water quality.

The tools, resources and information we provide for water quality managers include water quality and river flow objectives, monitoring programs and support for local councils and decision-makers to manage water quality.

NSW Water Quality and River Flow Objectives

The NSW Water Quality and River Flow Objectives were developed for all major fresh and estuarine surface water catchments across New South Wales. They were developed in consultation with local communities and recognise the environmental values and uses people want protected in their waterways and represent ideal natural flow conditions for healthy rivers.

The NSW Water Quality Objectives include a range of water quality indicators to help us assess whether the current condition of our waterways supports the values and uses people want protected.

The NSW River Flow Objectives set out goals for surface water flow management and identify how river flow can protect river health and water quality.

A similar set of objectives are available for marine waters and are known as the Marine Water Quality Objectives.

Update of NSW Water Quality Objectives

We are reviewing the NSW Water Quality Objectives across coastal catchments to ensure they reflect contemporary community values and uses, and as a key action under Initiative 1 of the NSW Marine Estate Management Strategy 2018–2028.

The review to date shows that all three components of the WQOs need to be updated, including where the WQOs apply. Specific updates include:

  • Characterisation of waterways according to the level of catchment disturbance – low, moderate, highly disturbed. The latest land use mapping provides more detailed breakdown, as well as captures the changes in land use over time
  • Community environmental values and uses are still relevant but need to reflect current values/uses, and our online engagement campaign indicates the need to include cultural values and industrial uses
  • Around 30% of Local Government Authorities have already adopted their own site specific or regionally specific guideline values, but we will use our recently developed water quality database to recommend site-specific or regionally-specific guideline values to areas that have not already calculated their own (following the methods outlined in the Australian Water Quality Guidelines (2018), and the Australian and New Zealand guidelines for fresh and marine water quality).

The final step in updating the Water Quality Objectives through a nationally recognised method, will be our endorsement workshops. These workshops will seek confirmation and endorsement of the results from our state-wide surveys and engagement campaigns from local and state land mangers, regulators, scientists, and decision makers.

These workshops will run from July to August 2022, and have been split into key coastal regions. Please see the draft schedule below.

Workshop Local Government Area/s Proposed date
South Coast
1 Bega Valley Shire 19 July
2 Eurobodalla 20 July
3 Shoalhaven 21 July
Sydney Metro (part 1), and Illawarra Region
4 Sydney drinking water 26 July
5 Hawkesbury-Nepean 28 July
6 Illawarra Councils 29 July
Hunter & Central Coast
7 Lake Mac & Central Coast 1 August
8 Hunter River 3 August
9 Port Stephens & MidCoast 4 August
Sydney Metro (part 2)
10 Cooks, Georges, Botany 9 August
11 Greater Sydney Harbour 11 August
Mid-north & North Coast
12 Port Mac to Coffs Harbour 15 August
13 Clarence to Richmond 17 August
14 Tweed and Byron 18 August

We still want to hear from you!

We’re updating the NSW Water Quality Objectives and want your feedback. Outcomes of the endorsement workshops (mid-September 2022) will be posted on this webpage for final public exhibition. All stakeholders and community members will be welcomed to provide a final round of feedback to the development of the guideline which will help local councils and NSW Government agencies update their environmental values and uses for waterways in our state. More information on how to provide this feedback will be made available here.
Hawkesbury Nepean estuary downstream of Wisemans Ferry

We work with councils and other agencies to manage the health of our waterways.

The Risk-based Framework for Considering Waterway Health Outcomes in Strategic Land-use Planning Decisions is a tool that decision-makers can use to manage the impacts of land-use activities on water quality. The framework combines existing principles and guidelines recommended in the National Water Quality Management Strategy and focuses on delivering waterway health outcomes for local communities according to the NSW Water Quality and River Flow Objectives.

Datasets to support the implementation of the Risk-based Framework are available on the SEED data portal. The datasets can be used to identify priorities for management actions or future studies to understand the effects of land-use activities on the health of waterways in New South Wales. 

The available datasets are:

Our work to protect and support healthy waterways in New South Wales also involves supporting local councils and decision-makers in monitoring, evaluating and reporting on water quality. Local councils can support healthy waterways through:
  • strategic planning
  • development consent
  • environmental regulation
  • stormwater and sewage management
  • awareness raising within the community about activities that affect water quality.
Mulloway on Pimpernel Rock NSW

We help manage the New South Wales marine estate under the NSW Marine Estate Management Strategy 2018–28.

The Marine Estate Management Authority leads this coordinated approach to protect and better manage our coasts and oceans.

Improving water quality and reducing marine litter is one of the key themes of the Marine Estate Management Strategy.

Our work in the marine environment includes:

Water quality management

The NSW Government adopted the National Water Quality Management Strategy (NWQMS) as its policy to manage the quality of waterways in New South Wales and protect water resources. It includes guidelines to support state and local governments, water authorities and industry to maintain and improve water quality according to local community environmental values and uses as outlined in the NSW Water Quality Objectives. These values and uses are what the community believes are important for a healthy ecosystem, for public benefit, welfare, safety or health.

The Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality (the Guidelines) is the central technical reference document for the NWQMS. The Guidelines provide a framework, recommendations and scientific criteria to help planners, regulators and researchers manage and improve water quality and waterway health.

The Guidelines were updated in 2018 to incorporate new science and knowledge developed since they were last revised in 2000, and will be updated periodically. The updated Guidelines are available on the Australian Government Initiatives website.

The Risk-based Framework for Considering Waterway Health Outcomes in Strategic Land-use Planning Decisions was developed as a five step process to capture the principles and strategies of the NWQMS. It is a process to assess if land and water management is contributing towards the achievement of the community environmental values and uses, and the Guidelines.