The Role of Decision Support Systems and Models in Integrated River Basin Management


Title: The Role of Decision Support Systems and Models in Integrated River Basin Management

Author(s): Global Water Partnership

Publication Date: 2013

Type of Document : Background Papers

Category: Integrated Water Resources Management

Geographic area:

  • Central America and the Caribbean
  • Canada
  • United States of America
  • Groënland
  • Mexico




The world's water issues are increasing in number, coverage and intensity and leading to a lack of water security. The availability of water in acceptable quality and quantity for human needs and for natural systems is paramount for sustaining life. Availability is under a constantly increasing threat from demands created by, amongst other factors, increasing populations, economic sector activities and requirements for environmental sustainability. Allocation issues at local, national and transboundary levels will become more and more contentious and flood and drought risks will be exacerbated by climate change. The IWRM approach has been developed to meet such challenges and to resolve such issues. IWRM assumes a governance system that is based on policy and legislation, institutional roles and a set of management instruments. Model codes and DSSs are among the management instruments which can assist at the management level of water agencies and other water-related institutional units to reach sound, evidence-based decisions.

While model codes describe isolated hydrological, hydro-economic, or water resources processes, a DSS is a framework that links together a database and processing environment, a knowledge and information system, a modelling and analysis framework, a socioeconomic analysis framework and a communication framework. Such sets of tools are seamlessly linked and tailored to a context. A DSS has an open interface and can access models from different suppliers, with the help of adapters, which enable the DSS to access prepared input data and model parameters and store relevant model results. A fully developed DSS can greatly assist many parts of the IWRM cycle, which describes the IWRM process right from the identification of water resources issues, over action planning, to the monitoring of the impact of interventions. The river basin level is the most common level at which a DSS assists the decision-makers in their quest for sustainable water resources management.

Data availability and quality is a concern no matter how ingeniously model codes are developed. Several hydrological and meteorological monitoring systems and networks are becoming increasingly weaker (with regard to operation and maintenance, choice of monitoring equipment, skills, etc.) and their density and coverage is decreasing in many parts of the world. At the same time, technological advances in sensor technology and high levels of integration of electronics and data communication have made the automation of hydrological and meteorological networks increasingly affordable and the amount of raw data huge. In a fast- changing world where climate change also poses huge challenges, efforts need to be made to collect, handle and use data more strategically, assisted by modelling and, in particular, assisted by DSSs.

As with other software, sustainability is an issue. To achieve sustainability, the DSS must be based on a real 'need' for the services that the DSS can provide and it must be flexible to adjust to new requirements. The software supplier must be able to provide continuous back-up services. The DSS must be anchored in an appropriate water agency with adequate funding and where qualified staff can be continuously available.

There are many good examples of DSS applications. Common to all, is that they have greatly assisted in understanding the river regimes ? the analysis of development scenarios and the associated impacts ? enhanced cooperation on water resources development and made stakeholder involvement more meaningful. The notable examples presented in this document include a Decision Support Framework (DSF) for the Lower Mekong Basin, the Nile Basin DSS, a DSS including hydro-economic modelling for the Euphrates-Tigris region, Zambezi River Basin Multi-Sector Investment Opportunities Analysis (MSIOA), a DSS including hydro-economic modelling in the Rio Grande basin, the Okavango River Basin Decision Support System and 'DSS Planning' for integrated water resources development and management in India.

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