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Anne Rahilly
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More than 100 water managers and scientists from across Australia are meeting in Canberra to develop a vision of how we better measure outcomes from water initiatives across Australia.

The recently announced Basin Plan charts a course for water management in the Murray-Darling Basin and the delivery of benefits from the Basin Plan will be achieved by smarter decisions in the way we use water. Smart decisions are informed by knowledge and data.

Associate Professor Michael Stewardson from the University of Melbourne School of Engineering said a coordinated effort across government agencies and with the private sector was needed to monitor impacts of the Basin Plan in terms of environmental, social and economic outcomes. “ This is a complex task requiring innovation in the way we gather, integrate and share information on the water system along with the goods and services it provides, “he said. New and sustained partnerships between the water industry and research and development sectors are needed to develop the necessary data infrastructure

 “It isn’t enough to take lots of measurements and prepare reports on how we are tracking in delivering on Basin Plan targets. We need to get this intelligence to the people who are making decisions. This includes decisions made by irrigation farmers and environmental water managers.”

Decisions to use water now or wait until later in the season are inherently uncertain and the more information farmers and managers have on the consequences of these decisions, the greater they can deliver in the long run.

The national forum, led by the University of Melbourne and involving researchers and industry, will address:

•    The need to coordinate what is monitored and the sharing of collected data
•    Development of sound monitoring design so we can compare outcomes in different rivers and wetlands across Australia
•    Governance partnering and leadership in monitoring waterways and the need for a more consistent voice in relation to monitoring environmental water outcomes in particular.

Professor Peter Scales from the University of Melbourne Water Productivity and Innovation Hub said “if we put in place a national system to monitor both the use of water, the benefits we gain from this use and then feed this information back to those in the private and public sectors making water decisions, we will be leading the world as a smart water nation.”