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Adaptive Management of Environmental Flows


Adaptive management enables managers to work with complexity and uncertainty, and to respond to changing biophysical and social conditions. Amid considerable uncertainty over the benefits of environmental flows, governments are embracing adaptive management as a means to inform decision making. This Special Issue of Environmental Management presents examples of adaptive management of environmental flows and addresses claims that there are few examples of its successful implementation. It arose from a session at the 11th International Symposium on Ecohydraulics held in Australia, and is consequently dominated by papers from Australia. We classified the papers according to the involvement of researchers, managers and the local community in adaptive management. Five papers report on approaches developed by researchers, and one paper on a community-led program; these case studies currently have little impact on decision making. Six papers provide examples involving water managers and researchers, and two papers provide examples involving water managers and the local community. There are no papers where researchers, managers and local communities all contribute equally to adaptive management. Successful adaptive management of environmental flows occurs more often than is perceived. The final paper explores why successes are rarely reported, suggesting a lack of emphasis on reflection on management practices. One major challenge is to increase the documentation of successful adaptive management, so that benefits of learning extend beyond the project where it takes place. Finally, moving towards greater involvement of all stakeholders is critical if we are to realize the benefits of adaptive management for improving outcomes from environmental flows.

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  1. Search was carried out on April 4, 2017, at the University of Melbourne. Search String: TS = (“adaptive manage*”) AND (“environmental flow*” or “environmental water” or eflow*)


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We thank the editorial staff of Environmental Management, and in particular Editor in Chief Bryan Brooks, for their forbearance during the extended gestation period of this Special Issue. The 11th International Symposium on Ecohydraulics provided the catalyst for this Special Issue, and we thank the conference organizing committee for the opportunity provided. We thank both authors and reviewers of the case studies presented in this issue for their contributions and involvement. JAW’s contribution to the Special Issue was supported by ARC LP130100174, and RJW’s by a Research Fellowship from the Institute for Land, Water and Society at Charles Sturt University.

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Correspondence to J. Angus Webb.

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Webb, J.A., Watts, R.J., Allan, C. et al. Adaptive Management of Environmental Flows. Environmental Management 61, 339–346 (2018).

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  • Environmental flows
  • Adaptive management
  • Reflection
  • Researchers
  • Managers
  • Local stakeholders
  • Decision-making
  • Uncertainty
  • Learning