NHMRC contributes to the National Water Quality Management Strategy. The strategy aims to protect our water resources while delivering good quality water to meet the needs of communities, businesses, industry and the environment.

Bushfires and impacts on water quality

Water quality can be impacted by bushfires. Ash sediment and other debris, fire retardants and dead animals are some of the things that can contaminate drinking water supplies and recreational water sites—especially if a bushfire event is followed by heavy rainfall. It is important to be aware of these risks, particularly if you are managing your own drinking water supplies. In addition, affected drinking water can be more difficult for water utilities to treat, especially if there has been loss of or damage to existing infrastructure. 

Community drinking water supplies are regularly monitored by local drinking water authorities (either state or local government) to ensure that the water is safe to drink—you will receive alerts and advice if your local drinking water supply has been affected. If you are managing your own water supply (e.g. rainwater tanks or other private water sources) and are concerned that your water source has been contaminated, an alternative source (e.g. bottled water) should be used until your original supply is safe to use again. For further information on the impact of bushfires on water quality and some actions you can take please see:

Recreational waters with large amounts of debris from bushfires may also be unsafe for recreational activities, including fishing and foraging and consuming the catch. Please be aware of these risks and follow directions from local authorities who manage these sites.

Under the National Health and Medical Research Council Act 1992, NHMRC has a responsibility to issue guidelines and advise the community, the Commonwealth and States and Territories on matters relating to improving health and preventing disease.  

In Australia, the primary responsibility for water quality management lies with state and territory governments, except for areas like Commonwealth marine waters. The Australian Government works with all states and territories to provide the best available information to support these governments establish their own guidelines and regulations for managing the quality and supply of water that is fit for purpose. 

To contribute to this, NHMRC has an ongoing role to maintain the currency of its drinking and recreational water quality guidelines that are part of the National Water Quality Management Strategy (NWQMS). The NWQMS is managed by the Australian Government Department of Agriculture in partnership with state and territory governments. The NWQMS aims to protect the nation's water resources by improving water quality while supporting the businesses, industry, environment and communities that depend on water.

1. NHMRC Guidelines and advice 

Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (ADWG) (2011)

The ADWG are part of the National Water Quality Management Strategy (Document 6) and provide an authoritative reference to the Australian community and the water supply industry on what defines safe, good quality drinking water, how it can be achieved and how it can be assured. The rolling revision of the ADWG is overseen by the NHMRC Water Quality Advisory Committee

Guidelines for Managing Risks in Recreational Water (GMRRW)

The GMRRW are part of the National Water Quality Management Strategy (Document 5) and their purpose is to protect human health from threats posed by the recreational use of coastal, estuarine and fresh waters. 

August 2019 - NHMRC has released an addendum to the GMRRW: Guidance on per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in recreational water.

Australian Guidelines for Water Recycling: Augmentation of Drinking Water Supplies

The Australian Guidelines for Water Recycling: Managing Health and Environmental Risks (Phase 2) Augmentation of Drinking Water Supplies (Document 22 of the NWQMS) extend the guidance given in Phase 1 on the planned use of recycled water (treated sewage and storm water) to augment drinking water supplies. The Guidelines focus on the water source, initial treatment processes and blending of recycled water with drinking water sources.

Health effects of water fluoridation

In Australia, community water fluoridation programs are considered a safe and effective way of reducing tooth decay across the population.

Community Water Planner

The Community Water Planner (the Tool) is a web-based tool to assist managers of remote community water supplies in managing microbiological, physical, chemical and radiological water quality risks.

2. NHMRC committees advising on water quality 

Water Quality Advisory Committee (WQAC)

The WQAC provides expert advice to NHMRC on public health issues related to drinking water quality. The major role of WQAC is the rolling review of the ADWG. 

Recreational Water Quality Advisory Committee (RWQAC) 

The RWQAC provides expert advice to NHMRC on public health issues related to recreational water quality. The primary role of RWQAC is the revision of the Guidelines for managing risks in recreational water. 

Drinking Water Disinfection By-Products Advisory Committee

This committee no longer exists. The functions have been absorbed into those of the Water Quality Advisory Committee

Further information

For further information on NHMRC’s work on Water Quality and Health, or to join our Water stakeholder mailing list please contact water@nhmrc.gov.au.