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Water Allocation

murray darling river

Full Project Title: Using an evidence-based approach in the optimisation of water allocation decisions

Theme 2 : Environmental watering and allocation - understanding and optimizing watering requirements, biodiversity, ecosystem services and productive water uses in the Murray-Darling Basin

This project was led by Dr Susan Nichols

A snapshot of research results: Incorporating flow-ecology relationships into river management models

Cotter Dam in the A.C.T. Photo taken by Dr Susan Nichols in 2008Australia is spending large amounts of money to return water to rivers as environmental flows. However, because of over allocation, such an investment in the environment can be controversial if the ecological benefits (such as successful water bird breeding) of released water are poorly understood. This project will promote greater understanding of the links between the ecological services that rivers provide, the watering regime required to maintain them, and how environmental and consumptive water allocations can be optimised by using scientific evidence. We will build upon existing knowledge to create a sound framework and mechanisms as 'proof of concept' for planning and managing environmental watering decisions.

The outcomes of this CRN project will facilitate the uptake of evidence-based practice in environmental management and policy development, and make better use of the existing scientific research through systematic review, empirical data and expert opinion to derive water allocation models to improve ability to sustainably manage our rivers.

With the implementation of 'The Basin Plan' the decisions to allocate flows specifically for the environment will be exposed to political scrutiny. The science underpinning these decisions needs to be robust. Adopting evidence-based methods can improve the rigour, transparency and repeatability of environmental water management decisions (Norris et al. 2012, Webb et al. 2012). Evidence-based decision making is Australian Government policy that requires formal mechanisms and tools to enable it.

This project is working towards advancing scientific understanding of environmental water requirements, and has the potential to drive the way in which environmental watering and the evaluation of ecological response is done in the future. The modelling activities undertaken will expand our capacity to optimally allocate water for environmental and consumptive purposes, and hence improve our ability to manage river systems and demonstrate the benefits of environmental water allocations.

The project will determine ecological water requirements for aquatic communities and develop 'proof of concept' eco-hydrology models and optimisation framework to assist in understanding the trade-offs between environmental-flow benefits and other consumptive uses, such as irrigation.

The project team are working to:

  • Quantify ecological response to flow for aquatic vegetation, benthic invertebrates and fish
  • Use scientific evidence to establish flow requirements for these biological components of the ecosystem (which are commonly used as indicators of ecosystem health) and develop 'proof of concept' models that link ecological response and hydrology
  • Incorporate a multi-objective optimisation modelling approach to provide decision-makers with a range of optimal alternatives. This method will enable visualisation of the trade-offs amongst objectives to aid decision-making

Photo of the Cotter Reservoir taken in 2008 by Dr Susan Nichols, MDBfutures Research Fellow.

MDBfutures is supported by the Australian Government's Collaborative Research Networks program.