National water modelling scheme to improve Australia’s water management

Wednesday, 30 May, 2012

Australia’s first national river-basin modelling platform, Source, was formally launched yesterday by Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water, the Hon Don Farrell, at eWater’s Source 2012 Conference.

Senator Farrell also announced nearly $4 million of Australian Government funding to support the application of the platform across Australia, with funding matched by the NSW, Victorian, Queensland, South Australian, ACT and Northern Territory governments.

Enabling step-change improvements in integrated water management, Source is the culmination of more than 20 years of research and development through the eWater Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) and its predecessor CRCs in collaboration with water industry partners from across Australia. The platform integrates the economic and environmental uses of water, including the planning and delivery of water for cities, irrigation, industry, mining and the environment.

With wide-ranging water management benefits, Source is soon to be adopted as Australia’s national hydrological modelling platform under a COAG agreement. It will meet the hydrological modelling needs of Australian and international governments, agencies and authorities for at least the next decade.

“The Australian Government places great importance on the need for consistency in river and water resource planning and operations nationwide, particularly where rivers cross state borders,” Senator Farrell said.

“The development and adoption of Source represents a significant step in delivering on this aim.

“eWater Source is the result of our best hydrological and ecological science and the sustained collaboration of many of the nation’s water authorities and leading water scientists. For the first time, policymakers and operators can plan and manage the sharing of water for human and ecological use, ranging from local urban systems to an entire river basin.”

At the launch in Canberra, eWater’s CEO Professor Gary Jones said, “Source will support implementation of the National Water Initiative and allow decision makers to consider the benefits and impacts of future scenarios involving land use improvements, environmental flows, new water infrastructure, and climate change.”

eWater CRC and its partners have been researching, building and trialling Source since 2005, thanks to core funding of $40.25 million from the Australian Government’s CRC program and $22.5 million from the CRC’s state and regional partners. The Australian Government, through the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities and National Water Commission, has invested an additional $11 million in the accelerated delivery of Source since 2008.

Who will use it, and how?

Source will be used by water managers across Australia to support integrated water resources management (IWRM) via its myriad design, optimisation, planning and operational applications, including:

  • integrated river and urban systems management
  • water ownership and trading
  • environmental flows allocations and delivery
  • optimising dam operations for flood protection and water security
  • irrigation supply management (including conjunctive surface/groundwater use)
  • catchment land use and water-quality improvement
  • examining climate change impacts on water availability

The platform’s groundbreaking capability allows decision makers to consider future scenarios, uncertainties, and alternative management options for catchments, urban environments and river systems. It encourages systems-based thinking, leading to exploration of alternatives and effective policymaking. For the first time, policymakers and operators can plan and manage the sharing of water for human and ecological use ranging from local urban systems to an entire river basin.

The platform allows different modelling methods to be compared without significant effort, meaning users can build on, rather than replace, existing models. It effectively integrates each organisation’s existing models, with a holistic approach to water management including human and ecological impacts. Users can track individual ownership of water throughout a river system; trade water between owners; optimise irrigation supply; manage urban and ecological demands for water; and assess climate impacts.

New science and learning can be incorporated seamlessly and added to the existing knowledge base. As new partners and stakeholders use Source they can contribute to the wider modelling knowledge pool for the benefit of the water management community. Source encourages collaboration and provides an environment where third parties can bring their modelling tools and capabilities into the framework.

Key projects

Source has already been applied in more than 100 water management projects and has proved its worth in:

  • The Port Phillip and Western Port region: to inform water quality investment priorities for the waterways and bays.
  • The ACT: for assessing the impacts of different scenarios on the territory’s catchment water quantity and quality.
  • Queensland: examining contamination of the Great Barrier Reef lagoon from coastal catchments; supporting change to land management practices by demonstrating their impacts on the Darling River; and, in the Moreton Bay area, informing total water-quality management policy and plans.
  • NSW Southern Highlands: to assess the impacts of residential development and agriculture on flow yields and water quality of the Nattai catchment.
  • Western Australian Government planning and policy in farm dam management: to help stakeholders understand the hydrology and supply reliability of farm dams.
  • Addressing water-quality issues in Lake Tai, China’s third largest freshwater lake, as part of an Australian Government AusAID initiative.
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