New tool forecasts Murray River flows

By AAP with Marina Kamenev 15 December 2010
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Water flows along the Murray-Darling River Basin can now be predicted three months in advance.

WATER USE IN THE southeast Murray-Darling River Basin will be able to gauge river flows up to three months in advance thanks to a new forecasting service.

The newly launched seasonal streamflow forecasts are a joint collaboration between the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology that aim to give locals a better handle on water management.

“I think this has been a big challenge for Australia,” says Professor Richard Kingsford the director of the Australian Wetlands and Rivers Centre from the University of New South Wales in Sydney. “In the Murray-Darling region everything depends on how full the dam is. The size of the dam will determine the amount of water that can be used for agriculture, and the amount that could be allocated towards the wetlands.

The new tool provides the likelihood of high, medium or low flows through 13 rivers and eight major storages in the south-east of the basin, using existing climate and catchment information. Data for additional sites will be added gradually during the next two years.

Forecasting is “vital” for saving the Murray River>

The Bureau’s deputy director Rob Vertessy said the forecasts would assist decision-making around water allocations, reservoir operations, environmental flows as well as water markets.

“Although there is a lot of water in some areas of Australia at the moment, water availability will continue to vary in the future as demand continues to grow,” he says. “The need to accurately monitor, assess and forecast the availability of water resources is more vital than ever.”

Richard says this tool could be particular useful to farmers. “They could decide how much crop to plant, depending on the amount of water they have access to.”

Water managers are also grateful for the technology. “Previously we have compared inflows to historical averages looking at where they have been similar and using that information to form predictions,” says Andrew Shields from the Goulburn Murray Water corporation. “This will be far more scientific. We will be able to provide irrigators with more reliable irrigation outlooks.”

A quick glance at the website shows high flows are likely from December to February, with heavy rains and storms having already inundated large chunks of NSW.

The forecasts, compiled using statistical modelling called Bayesian joint probability, can also be compared with historical data, with 10-year and long-term averages included. The research for the forecasts began three years ago.