Lack of water information
Lack of water for irrigation due to low rainfall and stream flows presents a real and severe challenge to farmers' livelihoods and communities. At the same time, farmers must work to protect the environmental health of the catchment, requiring sound water management strategies.
Coordinated action by farmers is required to manage the shared resource well and potentially avoid water restrictions. However, environmental information from Tasmania's sensor networks was not well connected for farmers, making it difficult to access the data required for effectively managing irrigation water.
Farmers had to learn how to access and use real-time sensor data for situational awareness, and understand how their coordinated actions could affect stream flows and benefit their community.
New technology enables cooperation
The Ringarooma irrigation community in north-east Tasmania, which includes about 70 farmers, developed a coordinated and adaptive approach to water extractions and releases using a water dashboard developed by CSIRO and UTAS in the Sense-T program. The aims were to make available real-time sensor data from multiple government and private sources for situational awareness, and help farmers understand the impacts of water management decisions.
Farmers formed a water users group, and through use of the dashboard demonstrated to the government regulator community responsibility and increased sophistication in water management. With government cooperation, adaptive management resulted in fewer water restrictions being imposed, and water users were able to demonstrate effective adaptation management using real-time water information.
This was best demonstrated within the adaptive management provision of the Ringarooma Water Management Plan, where active water sharing and management of flows above the environmental threshold was achieved in practice during extremely dry conditions. A similar provision is now available in all other water management plans in the state during dry conditions.
Community and economic benefits
Adaptive water management resulted in increased farm crop and pasture production. An economic impact assessment involving about a sixth of the farmers in the Ringarooma catchment determined that the total economic benefit of adaptive management to them was estimated to be $1.5 million in one extremely dry irrigation season.
Social and environmental impacts include the maintenance of environmental flow levels designed to protect stream habitat, and improved social cohesion and resilience being built among the irrigation community.