Irrigation pipes spraying water across a pasture.

Successful Water Resource Management —

Human water security is often achieved with little consideration of environmental consequence. So, when water resource management seeks trade-offs between competing uses, the lack of scientific certainty around environmental water requirements means the inclusion of science raises as many questions as it answers …”

Associate Professor Darren S. Ryder, School of Environmental and Rural Sciences

The debate that surrounds water resource management requires a substantial input from science because scientific evidence has played a major role in identifying the ‘problem’ as well as suggesting appropriate remedies. Arguably, there is a critical need for evidence-based information to contribute to water resource policy development, yet a framework for effective science-policy-management information exchange is still required for science to be heard among the chorus of socio-economic factors that inform water resources management and policy development. The necessity for evidence-based policy and management is widely called for, but rarely debated, with all disciplines involved seeking improved integration of scientific knowledge in water management.One of the challenges facing scientists is to develop mechanisms for identifying and contributing ‘Best Available Science’ (BAS) to the sound management of water resources. The term ‘best available science’ has been used

One of the challenges facing scientists is to develop mechanisms for identifying and contributing ‘best available science’ (BAS) to the sound management of water resources. The term ‘best available science’ has been used world-wide as a criterion to decide which information should be used to shape well-informed resource management decisions. Associate Professor Ryder’s research reviews the current understanding and use of BAS in water resource management from science, policy and management perspectives. In particular, he explores the use and mis-use of BAS in the development and implementation of environmental flow regimes, a highly contentious management action that aims to improve the ecological health of rivers. Successfully implementing environmental flows requires dialogue among scientists, policy-makers, water managers and users, and local communities, to balance priorities among competing demands for water. Australia is a world leader in the implementation of large-scale environmental flow programs. Most notable is the Basin Plan that has recently passed into law to return up to 2750 gigalitres of environmental water to the Murray and Darling River systems. This contentious re-allocation of such a large volume of water from consumptive (i.e. agricultural) to environmental uses has caused great controversy among rural and regional communities and the industries that support them. One of the key points of contention in the development of the Basin Plan has been the credibility of the evidence-base used to determine how much water the environmental flow is allocated. It would be naïve to consider that a strong evidence base for predicting the ecological outcomes of environmental flows would resolve the controversy associated with large-scale water reforms such as the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. It is a ‘wicked’ problem, and debates around the relative merits of different uses for water continue. The core challenge faced by successful science–policy–management integration is that on-ground managers and

Australia is a world leader in the implementation of large-scale environmental flow programs. Most notable is the Basin Plan that has recently passed into law to return up to 2750 gigalitres of environmental water to the Murray and Darling River systems. This contentious re-allocation of such a large volume of water from consumptive (i.e. agricultural) to environmental uses has caused great controversy among rural and regional communities and the industries that support them. One of the key points of contention in the development of the Basin Plan has been the credibility of the evidence-base used to determine how much water the environmental flow is allocated.

It would be naïve to consider that a strong evidence base for predicting the ecological outcomes of environmental flows would resolve the controversy associated with large-scale water reforms such as the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. It is a ‘wicked’ problem, and debates around the relative merits of different uses for water continue. The core challenge faced by successful science–policy–management integration is that on-ground managers and policy makers, faced with the challenge of partnership-driven management, have questions that cannot be answered unequivocally by science. Associate Professor Ryder’s conclusions are that scientists cannot afford to remain detached experts who deliver knowledge to managers, but must assume the roles of collaborative learners and knowledge generators in a science–management partnership. Successful water resource management therefore requires that scientists, managers and policy makers develop skills and possess the courage to advocate the best science available and not wait for the best science possible.

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