Environmental issues

Water quality

7. Current New South Wales Government water monitoring programs

A review of current State water monitoring programs was undertaken to gauge the current level of monitoring activity, allow an assessment of possible gaps, and to determine if there is duplication across agencies.

State agency water monitoring programs have been established to meet stated information needs of the Government (such as those set out in Table 2). This Table groups together objectives of programs that require both general information (e.g. trends in water quality and ecological condition) and specific information (e.g. flow requirements, performance monitoring, and determining environmental targets). These objectives tend to largely address freshwater/riverine systems.

All major New South Wales Government agency water monitoring programs are listed in Table 3. The programs generally fall into one of four categories:

  1. Programs where long term data have been or will be collected
  2. New programs in which new monitoring indicators or tools are being developed
  3. Program specific investigations
  4. Community monitoring programs funded by the NSW Government and other bodies, such as trusts, local government and community groups.

A total of 30 programs were identified (Table 3).  The majority (15 directly, 3 indirectly) of the programs are on-going or long term monitoring programs. These are run by several agencies including Department of Land and Water Conservation (DLWC), Sydney Catchment Authority (SCA), Sydney Water Corporation (SWC), Hunter Water Corporation (HWC), State Forests of NSW (SFNSW), NSW Environment Protection Authority, National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) and Murray-Darling Basin Commission (MDBC). Some are coordinated state/community-based programs such as Waterwatch and Streamwatch. There were four programs identified as developing new tools (i.e. multiple tools in each), these were part of the Integrated Monitoring of Environmental Flows (IMEF) program.

There are a significant number of programs with some emphasis on either physico-chemical water quality and/or human health (e.g. bacteria, viruses, and toxic algae) (Table 4B). Recreational water quality monitoring, currently coordinated by the EPA through Beachwatch and Harbourwatch, covers only the Sydney, Hunter and Illawarra areas. As mentioned earlier, there is a Pilot Recreational Water Quality Monitoring Program along the north and south coast of NSW that has recently been funded by the Government through the Coastal Council. The regular monitoring of contaminants (e.g. metals and organic compounds) in water is limited to performance monitoring by Sydney Water Corporation and human health concerns by the Sydney Catchment Authority. The DLWC Key Sites program concentrates on three variables - total phosphorus, salinity and turbidity. Waterwatch and Streamwatch are community monitoring programs using a limited range of variables; they have been concentrating recently on improving the quality of data reported by introducing a quality assurance/quality control system.

Monitoring programs that assess ecological condition of waterways are more limited. The regular monitoring of contaminants in water, sediments and flora/fauna in terms of ecological condition does not occur as part of any ongoing program. Some tools for the assessment of the bioaccumulation of metals have been developed for NSW estuaries. Sediment quality assessment guidelines are available in ANZECC & ARMCANZ ((2000a) (Table 4B).

The main element of biological monitoring undertaken in NSW relates to algal monitoring (e.g. cell counts and chlorophyll-a). Most biological monitoring is regionally and largely agency specific (e.g. IMEF, Snowy River Benchmarking). There were two State-wide biological monitoring programs identified:

  1. The comprehensive NSW component of the Australian River Assessment System/First National Assessment of River Health (AUSRIVAS/FNARH) program which was federally funded but is not ongoing and therefore not included in Table 3
  2. Waterwatch and Streamwatch freshwater macroinvertebrates which is done at a coarse level of identification. (As the identification of organisms is not done by technical experts, the wider use of the data is limited.)

There is no ongoing biological monitoring in estuarine and coastal systems, although shorter-term investigations/monitoring in specific areas has been done in many coastal regions (Table 4B-C).

Detailed hydrology (i.e. coastal and riverine) and geomorphology-based programs are conducted by DLWC, Sydney Catchment Authority and State Forests (Table 4B).

The list of programs does not include a comprehensive account of local council monitoring, nor of local and regional programs run by agencies such as DLWC.

Page last updated: 22 March 2012