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Water quality

Key messages

Why water quality is important

We need clean water to protect our freshwater, estuarine and marine plants and animals. Poor water quality has been attributed to algal blooms, declines in seagrass and coral loss. It can also affect our drinking water supplies. Poor water quality can be caused by run-off from different land uses (e.g. cane growing, grazing, horticulture and urban land use) as well as discharges from point sources (e.g. pipes). The major source of poor water quality is from diffuse sources (agriculture and urban run-off such as stormwater).

Many marine systems, such as the Great Barrier Reef, are likely to face a number of pressures from climate change into the future. Improving water quality and reducing some of the local stressors will create resilience against the likely impacts from climate change.

Understanding water quality report cards

Water quality is highly variable year to year in many regions depending on rainfall. As a result, a combination of monitoring and modelling is often used to better understand long-term improvements in water quality.

Regional waterway health report cards provide finer scale information on water quality in local streams, rivers and bays. These show that many waterways are in poor condition, and that the condition is heavily dependent on rainfall during the relevant period.

Discharge into waterways

Nitrogen and phosphorus are significant contaminants resulting from both diffuse sources (e.g. farmlands) and point sources (e.g. sewage treatment plants): they cause ecological imbalance through growth of algae and other species. Upgrades of sewage treatment plants help reduce these contaminants release. Continuous monitoring is needed to determine when upgrade or expansion of plants has become necessary due to population growth. Current levels of contaminants from sewage treatment plants are relatively stable.

Key findings


Water quality report card coverage

Queensland is well covered by water quality monitoring at different timescales, from annual report cards in coastal areas to less frequent monitoring in more remote regions. Areas such as the Gulf of Carpentaria and parts of the Murray–Darling Basin have not yet been covered, but will be addressed in future programs.

Condition of aquatic ecosystem health

Queensland's aquatic ecosystems vary significantly in condition. Some are in pristine condition while others do not meet standards for water quality.


Pressures affecting Queensland’s aquatic ecosystems

The pressures affecting Queensland's aquatic ecosystems vary depending on local conditions and level of development. Broadly, sediments, nutrients and pesticides are the main catchment pressures on our aquatic ecosystems. Climate change is also a pressure on aquatic ecosystems, particularly the Great Barrier Reef.

Volume and load of sewage treatment plants

The volume and load of nitrogen and phosphorus released from coastal sewage treatment plants into waterways in Queensland has remained relatively constant since 2010, with the exception of a significant reduction in both volume and nitrogen loads released in 2014. Phosphorus loads increased in South East Queensland in 2014, most likely due to reduced water recycling from advanced water treatment plants.


Healthy Waterways South East Queensland report card

The Healthy Waterways Report Card commenced in 2000 with estuarine and marine monitoring, adding freshwater in 2002. The report card is released in October each year and includes the results of waterway monitoring more than 600 sites across the region, including fresh, estuarine and marine water quality, mud sampling, fish sampling and seagrass mapping collected in the previous financial year by Queensland Government scientists. The Healthy Waterways Report Card reports annually on the condition and trend of South East Queensland (SEQ) waterways to understand and communicate the health of waterways, and identify issues that require intervention.

The 2015 report card introduces new indicators, including riparian vegetation, and combines indicators to calculate one overall grade per catchment: it combines freshwater streams and estuarine environments and integrates creeks into catchments to provide a holistic overview of catchment condition.

Gladstone Harbour Pilot Report Card

The Gladstone Harbour Report card reports on estuarine and marine condition in the harbour based on monitoring of ecological and biological indicators, and also reports on social, economic and cultural indicators. The report card helps enable stakeholders to have confidence in the efforts to maintain and improve the health of the harbour.

Fitzroy Basin Report Card

The Fitzroy Basin Report Card reports on aquatic ecosystem health of freshwater and estuarine condition for the Fitzroy Basin, as well as drinking water results for Rockhampton and Central Highlands. The report card helps inform consideration of whether current management strategies are proving successful in maintaining the health of aquatic ecosystems and helps guide and improve planning and investments towards improved aquatic ecosystem health by governments and all partner organisations.

Great Barrier Reef Report Card and Paddock to Reef Integrated Monitoring, Modelling and Reporting Program (Paddock to Reef Program)

The Great Barrier Reef Report Card assesses progress towards the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan goal and targets for improved water quality, land and catchment management. Through the Paddock to Reef program, a combination of monitoring and modelling is used to assess reductions in sediment, nutrients and pesticides from the paddock-scale to the end of catchments that drain to the Great Barrier Reef.

Paddock monitoring assesses water quality improvements from different land management practices. Catchment loads monitoring tracks long-term trends in water quality entering the reef from high priority catchments and is used to validate modelling.

Inshore marine water quality is also assessed. All of the information is combined in the annual Reef Report Card.

Mackay-Whitsunday Pilot Report Card

The Mackay–Whitsunday Pilot Report Card, released in October 2015, reports on the health of the region’s waterways, including the catchments of the Don, Proserpine, Pioneer, O’Connell and Plane basins, eight estuaries, and the inshore and offshore marine areas to the eastern boundary of the Great Barrier Reef. The report card will help community, industry, science, tourism and government to work together to determine how and where we can do more to look after our waterways.

Condamine Catchment Report Card

The Condamine Catchment Report Card 2013 is a one-off report card supported by technical reports. It reports on catchment condition (water, land and wildlife) using existing available data, as well as people, assessing progress against water, land and nature targets in the Condamine Catchment Natural Resource Management Plan 2010. The Condamine Catchment Report Card 2013 aim was to raise awareness in the region, engage current and potential stakeholders and improve knowledge by summarising robust and detailed scientific studies into an easy-to-understand format.

QCatchments program

The QCatchments program can be scaled up or down from province to catchment level depending on information needs. The program moves across the state depending on priorities, with assessments generally undertaken to support water planning assessments. The QCatchments program identifies priority threats to aquatic ecosystems, reports on the condition of the ecosystem, improves understanding of ecosystem processes and the influence of threats, and guides natural resource decision-making processes.

Surface Water Quantity and Quality Networks and Groundwater Level and Quality Networks

The networks assess the state's water resource availability by providing data for hydrologic analysis, operation and management activities to ensure the productive and responsible use of natural resources.

Water Tracking and Electronic Reporting System (WaTERS)

The Water Tracking and Electronic Reporting System (WaTERS) currently receives water quality monitoring data from more than 200 facilities across Queensland that are approved to release water to the environment. About half of these facilities are sewage treatment plants. Other facilities include large coal mines, coal seam gas activities and industries in Gladstone and South East Queensland.

Assessment summary

See an overview of gradings for water quality in the assessment summary.

Last updated
10 July 2017