Water Quality and Health

Under the National Health and Medical Research Council Act 1992, NHMRC has a responsibility to inquire into, issue guidelines on, and advise the community on, matters relating to the improvement of health and the prevention of disease. NHMRC also has a responsibility to advise, and make recommendations to, the Commonwealth, the States and the Territories on these matters.

In line with these responsibilities, NHMRC contributes to the ongoing development of the National Water Quality Management Strategy (NWQMS). The NWQMS is a joint national approach to improving water quality in Australian and New Zealand waterways and is managed by the Department of Agriculture and Water  Resources. 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 for their continued development.

Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (2011)

The 2011 Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (ADWG) are one part of the NWQMS (Document 6) and are designed to 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 ADWG provide a framework for good management of drinking water supplies to ensure safety at point of use. They address both the health and aesthetic quality aspects of supplying good quality drinking water.

The ADWG have been developed by NHMRC and undergo rolling revision to ensure they represent the latest and best scientific evidence on good quality drinking water.

The ADWG are not mandatory legally enforceable standards. Rather, the ADWG are an authoritative reference for use within Australia’s administrative and legislative framework to ensure the accountability of drinking water suppliers (as managers) and of state and territory health authorities (as auditors of the safety of water supplies).

Guidelines for Managing Risks in Recreational Water

The Guidelines for Managing Risks in Recreational Water are part of the NWQMS (Document 5) and their purpose is to protect human health from threats posed by the recreational use of coastal, estuarine and fresh waters. The Guidelines are a tool to assist in the development of legislation and standards to ensure that recreational water environments are managed as safely as possible.

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 stormwater) to augment drinking water supplies. The Guidelines focus on the water source, initial treatment processes and blending of recycled water with drinking water sources.

Water Quality Advisory Committee

The NHMRC Water Quality Advisory Committee 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. 

Disinfection By-Products Advisory Committee

The NHMRC Disinfection By-Products Advisory Committee will provide expert advice to NHMRC on the evidence of a potential association between drinking water disinfection by-products and health effects.

Other Activities

Community Water Planner

Health effects of water fluoridation

Public consultation

In accordance with Section 13 of the NHMRC Act 1992, the public must be invited to make submissions relating to any draft amendments to the ADWG, Guidelines for Managing Risks in Recreational Water or Australian Guidelines for Water Recycling:  Augmentation of Drinking Water Supplies, in accordance with the procedures, and within the period, specified in the consultation notice. The Council must have regard to any submissions received during the public consultation process before providing the recommendation to the CEO to finalise the amendments.

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.

For more information specifically on the Health effects of water fluoridation please contact fluoride@nhmrc.gov.au.