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Waterways monitoring

People swimming in a waterway

The quality of the water flowing through our creeks, rivers, estuaries, man-made lakes and canals and into our oceans affects the habitat of a range of aquatic species, and the health and amenity of waterways and beaches for swimming and recreation.

City of Gold Coast coordinates a city-wide surface water quality monitoring program for a number of natural and constructed waterways throughout the Gold Coast.

Approximately 230 sites from 20 of the city's waterways are included in the City's monitoring program. These include ocean beaches, the broadwater, rivers, creeks, canals and freshwater and tidal lakes. 

For the latest monitoring results from our catchments, see the interactive map at Protecting our catchments. Find an explanation of the water quality monitoring parameters used below.

Uses for water quality information

The water quality information is used for a range of purposes including:

  • providing information on the ecological health of the city's waterways
  • providing information to compare with national water quality standards
  • identifying trends in water quality
  • monitoring the effectiveness of waterway management strategies and community rehabilitation efforts
  • assessing changes in water quality in association with landscape modification
  • providing general water quality information for student and public enquiries.

Water quality monitoring parameters

There are a number of water quality monitoring parameters that can provide information about the health of our waterways. Understanding these parameters and how they affect aquatic ecosystems is important if monitoring is to lead to actions to protect aquatic ecosystems.


The main effect of water temperature on the environment is related to oxygen in the water. The amount of oxygen that water can hold decreases as the temperature of the water increases. So if water gets too hot there is less available oxygen for living things.

Temperature also affects the metabolic rate of aquatic animals, rates of development, breeding cycles, mobility, migration patterns and the sensitivity of organisms to toxins, parasites and disease.

Life cycles of many organisms are related to temperature. Organisms can tolerate slow changes in temperature, but thermal stress can occur where the temperature changes more than 1 or 2 degrees Celsius in 24 hours.

Temperature is directly affected by depth of water, flow rate, season and time of day. Other influences include air temperature, altitude, amount of sunlight and shade, turbidity, stormwater and urban runoff and cold water releases from dams.

Cool to moderate water temperatures increase oxygen levels, which promotes healthy ecosystems. Protecting riparian vegetation will help our waterways to stay cool and healthy.


pH is the measure of acidity or alkalinity of water. The pH scale ranges from of 1 being strongly acidic, 7 being neutral, and 14 being strongly basic (or alkaline). Generally, the pH of fresh surface waters are between 6.5 and 8.0, and the pH of most marine waters is close to 8.2. A pH range of 6.5 to 8.2 is best for most fish and other aquatic organisms. Changes outside of this normal range can cause a reduction in species diversity.

pH can be affected by a number of factors. For example, water flowing through a basalt and sandstone country can cause the water to be slightly acidic. This can be a natural occurrence. On the other hand, the application of lime to agriculture land may raise the pH if washed into the waterways, whilst fertilisers may lower it.

Water with a pH less than 5.5 may cause the release of heavy metals trapped in sediments. Fish and other aquatic species may suffer skin irritations, tumours, ulcers and impaired gill functioning. People may also incur skin and eye irritations as a result of affected water.

Dissolved oxygen

Dissolved oxygen (DO) is the volume of oxygen that is contained in water. It is vital for the survival of fish, aquatic invertebrates and amphibians. Oxygen enters the water through photosynthesis of aquatic plants and algae as well as wave action from waterfalls and riffles. Oxygen can be lost when water temperature rises, and salinity increase.

Dissolved oxygen (DO) are recorded in units of milligrams of oxygen gas (O2) dissolved in each litre of water (i.e. mg/L) or as a percentage of the maximum amount of DO that is possible in a waterbody at a specified temperature and salinity (i.e. % saturation).


Salinity is the measure of the dissolved salt content of a body of water. It can naturally be found in the landscape, soil, rocks, dissolved water or groundwater. Salt naturally occurs in our landscape. However land use activities can mobilise natural salts causing concentration in certain areas. Salinity is measured by electrical conductivity (EC).

Electrical conductivity

Electrical conductivity (EC), or "conductivity", is a measure of the ability of water to conduct an electrical current. The ability to conduct an electric current is due to the presence of dissolved salts. Thus, EC is used to calculate salinity and the concentration of dissolved salts in a waterbody. The formal unit for conductivity is siemens per metre (S/m). Microsiemens per centimetre (μS/cm) is more commonly used when measuring fresh or brackish waters. Millisiemens per centimetre (mS/cm) is used when measuring estuarine and marine waters.


Turbidity is the cloudiness or muddiness of water. Particles that hinder the transmission of light through the water include clay, silt, sand, algae, or plankton. Turbidity can potentially affect the rate of photosynthesis, and therefore the growth of plants or algae in the water body.

Turbidity can be measured directly using probes. Nephelometric Turbidity Units (NTU) is the unit of measurement for turbidity.

Increased turbidity can affect light penetration. This can reduce plant growth, oxygen production and long-term biodiversity. Land-based activities such as agriculture, removal of vegetation, stormwater and urban runoff and building sites without sediment and erosion control can increase turbidity levels.

Water level/discharge

Water quality has a direct relationship with water quantity, hence the importance of monitoring discharge. Discharge monitoring allows for the assessment of water quality conditions and trends as well as determining the load, or amount, of a contaminant that is moving past a given point. Discharge also determines habitat availability and suitability so is important for fish and other flora and fauna.

The City monitors water level and converts the level data to discharge via an equation. This conversion of stream height to flow/discharge requires the collection of gauging data at all stages and preferably over time. This method is common in monitoring discharge in freshwater systems.


  • ANZECC and ARMCANZ (2000), Australian and New Zealand guidelines for fresh and marine water quality, Volume 2, Aquatic ecosystems, Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council, Agriculture and Resource Management Council of Australia and New Zealand.
  • Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water NSW (2010), Community/Land Manager Waterway Guide, accessed online
  • Department of Environment and Science (2018), Monitoring and Sampling Manual, Environmental Protection (Water) Policy 2009, accessed online

We can all help

We can all help to protect our waterways by managing our everyday activities so that we don't affect water quality.

Activities that can harm the health of our waterways include:

  • disposing of litter incorrectly, such as cigarette butts and pet droppings
  • run off from back yards or car repairs
  • excessive use of fertilisers and pesticides on gardens
  • incorrect disposal of paints and wastes from home improvements
  • washing cars on driveways or streets.

For more information on water quality and the City's city-wide monitoring program, or if you are aware of a pollution incident in your area, contact the City on 1300 GOLDCOAST (1300 465 326) or 07 5582 8211.

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