The quality of the water in our rivers and aquifers is impacted by location. This can be due to natural inputs of salt and nutrients from the geology and surrounding landscape. Water quality can also be degraded by a wide range of factors like sewage discharge, mine wastes, land clearing, cultivation and urban and agricultural development.
The regulation of river flow by dams and weirs and the extraction of water have also influenced the quality of water. Many rivers are receiving fewer floods and flow events that would naturally clean and flush the river. While degraded water quality may only be a short–term problem for rivers, water in groundwater systems has often been stored for thousands of years so any contamination has long-lasting impacts.
The National Water Quality Management Strategy provides guidance on water quality planning and management. The strategy establishes guideline values for various water quality measures. In NSW, interim water quality objectives have been established in consultation with the community. They help decision makers consider water quality in both big picture strategic planning such as State Strategic Plans and Regional Strategies and at the local level when assessing impacts of development.
The department, through its water licences, also requires that contaminated irrigation or mining water not be returned directly to rivers and groundwater. The Office of Environment and Heritage licenses the discharge of sewage and other point source pollution.
The department is currently developing Water Quality and Salinity Management Plans for the water resource plan areas in NSW. A preliminary assessment ((PDF 4.8 MB)) of the Basin Plan water quality targets using water quality data collected between 2007 and 2012 has been carried out. Regional targets will be investigated following the development of the Water Quality Management Plans.
Waterwatch NSW is a community based program in water quality monitoring. The aim of the program is to have the public and local organisations involved in regular water quality monitoring activities to inform government, the community and natural resource management organisations on the health of our local waterways.
To assist Waterwatch groups, the Office of Environment and Heritage in partnership with the Commonwealth Government developed new resource material and a new Waterwatch database for users which were released in 2010. These resources include manuals, guides and posters that can assist groups in the field on water quality sampling methods and techniques.
The Waterwatch database allows Waterwatch groups to enter water quality monitoring results from their local area or chosen site. The information is then used by Local Land Services and other organisations to develop an indication of water quality health in a particular area. The information collected may also provide an indication of upstream health and what other factors may be impacting the health of a lake, river or estuary.
For further details please visit Waterwatch.