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Decision Support Systems for Improving Water Use Efficiency in the Northern Murray-Darling Basin

Abawi, Y. Dr; Ph; (07) 4688 1123; Fax: (07) 4688 1478;

Research Organisation: Queensland Centre for Climate Applications, Department of Natural Resources, P.O. Box 318, Toowoomba, Queensland 4350

Collaborators: University of Southern Queensland; NSW Department of Land and Water Conservation; Plant Industry, Australian Cotton Research Institute, CSIRO, Narrabri, NSW

Sponsor: Murray Darling Basin Commission (NRMS- Strategic Investigations and Education Program)


The main objectives of this research project are to:

  • determine the power of seasonal climate indices for forecasting streamflows;
  • develop decision support systems that enable water users and managers to better manage water resources given improved information on supply and risk;
  • demonstrate the benefits of the system to irrigation users and managers in a pilot case study;
  • develop an extension program to improve the adoption of better risk management strategies leading to better benefits to growers, the environment and local community.


An integrated water management model has been developed with components including catchment hydrology, crop agronomy, economics of cropping systems, climate variability, environmental needs, on and off-farm water demands. The interaction amongst these components is being incorporated in to the model. The IQQM model, developed by New South Wales Department of Land and Water Conservation, is being used to simulate water allocation with various supply and demand scenarios for the Border Rivers catchment. Analyses will be carried out to establish relationships of flows, supply and demand with different climatic indices such as the phases of the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI). The results from the IQQM model will be linked with agronomic and economic models to optimise water supply and demand. The model is currently being tested using irrigated cotton in the Border Rivers catchment and will be later expanded to include other irrigated crops and regions.


1. Long term (105 years) natural streamflows over the spring and summer period for various rivers in the Border Rivers catchment were analysed to examine their relationship with different climatic indices such as the phases of the Southern Oscillation. The median spring and summer flows were consistently higher than long term median when the SOI phases in May were positive or rapidly rising. It was less than the long term median when the SOI phases in May were negative or rapidly falling.

2. Calibration of the IQQM model for the Border Rivers catchment has almost been completed. Using this model, water allocation and harvesting from the river systems are being simulated for the irrigation nodes in the catchment. These results and their relationships with the climatic indices are being analysed to develop decision support tools that could assist growers in planning on cropping and risk management strategies.

3. Using simulation results, an economic analysis is being carried out to assess the value of seasonal climate forecasts in irrigation management in the northern Murray-Darling Basin. Preliminary results show significant gains can be achieved from the use of long range climate forecasts in on-farm decisions. Work has also been started to determine the benefits of seasonal climate forecasts in water allocation decisions at the catchment level.

Period: starting date 1997-01; completion date 1999-12

Status: ongoing


Abawi, Y. and Dutta, S.C. (1998). Forecasting of streamflows in NE-Australia based on the Southern Oscillation Index. Paper presented at the International Conference on Engineering in Agriculture, 27-30 September, the University of Western Australia, Perth, W.A.


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