This work advances the incorporation and cross-model deployment of multi-biogeochemistry and ecological simulations in existing process-based hydro-modelling tools. It aims to transform the current practice of water quality modelling as an isolated research effort into a more integrated and collaborative activity between science communities. Our approach, which we call “Open Water Quality” (OpenWQ), enables existing hydrological, hydrodynamic, and groundwater models to extend their capabilities to water quality simulations, which can be set up to examine a variety of water-related pollution problems. OpenWQ’s objective is to provide a flexible biogeochemical model representation that can be used to test different modelling hypotheses in a multi-disciplinary co-creative process. In this paper, we introduce the general approach used in OpenWQ. We detail aspects of its architecture that enable its coupling with existing models. This integration enables water quality models to benefit from advances made by hydrologic- and hydrodynamic-focused groups, strengthening collaboration between the hydrological, biogeochemistry, and soil science communities. We also detail innovative aspects of OpenWQ’s modules that enable biogeochemistry lab-like capabilities, where modellers can define the pollution problem(s) of interest, the appropriate complexity of the biogeochemistry routines, and test different modelling hypotheses. In a companion paper, we demonstrate how OpenWQ has been coupled to two hydrological models, the “Structure for Unifying Multiple Modelling Alternatives” (SUMMA) and the “Cold Regions Hydrological Model” (CRHM), demonstrating the innovative aspects of OpenWQ, the flexibility of its couplers and internal spatiotemporal data structures, and the versatile eco-modelling lab capabilities that can be used to study different pollution problems.