Generic water quality guidelines (WQGs) are developed by countries/regions as broad scale tools to assist with the protection of aquatic ecosystems from the impacts of toxicants. However, since generic WQGs cannot adequately account for the many environmental factors that may affect toxicity at a particular site, site-specific WQGs are often needed, especially for high environmental value ecosystems. The Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality provide comprehensive guidance on methods for refining or deriving WQGs for site-specific purposes. This paper describes three such methods for deriving site-specific WQGs, namely: (1) using local reference water quality data, (2) using biological effects data from laboratory-based toxicity testing, and (3) using biological effects data from field surveys. Two case studies related to the assessment of impacts arising from mining operations in northern Australia are used to illustrate the application of these methods. Finally, the potential of several emerging methods designed to assess thresholds of ecological change from field data for deriving site-specific WQGs is discussed. Ideally, multiple lines of evidence approaches, integrating both laboratory and field data, are recommended for deriving site-specific WQGs. © 2013 Crown Copyright as represented by: Australian Government Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.