Summary

Regions with high interannual variability of streamflow present challenges for managing the risks associated with the use of their water resource systems. Reliable forecasts of streamflow months in advance offer opportunities to manage this risk. Knowledge of more or less streamflow than average has the potential to influence farmer decision making and/or the allocation of water to the environment or to replace groundwater stocks under threat. In the long term, it has the potential to improve the viability of agricultural production activities and increase water use efficiency while maintaining desirable environmental flows.

The ability of the integrated modeling approach described above to provide comparison with alternate heuristic forecasting techniques has demonstrated the practical advantage of forecasting methods over these alternate techniques. In the overwhelming number of cases, where water management and consequent planting decisions were based on seasonal forecasts, the enterprise would have returned a better result in terms of water use efficiency and net gains in profit. Yet adoption is slow, perhaps reflecting the general conservative nature of farmers, at least in Australia, and the need for them to see real and sustained benefit before they will consider incorporating such tools into their decision making.

The social analysis confirmed that knowledge and understanding of the term and the forms of seasonal forecasting were highly variable. There seemed to be a misunderstanding of the difference between types of forecasting and sources of forecasting. However, there was considerable support for natural signals rather than the use of technology. The degree to which people understood probabilities, or thought they could be useful, was also variable. Many were skeptical of the probabilities given their derivation by the extrapolation of past data to the present. Their usefulness was also questioned in view of past experiences.

An aggressive water reform agenda, underpinned by an acknowledgment of the finite size of the water resource and recognition of the legitimacy of the environment as a water user, is driving research in and development of tools that can fine-tune critical decisions about water allocation.

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