How Data Science Can Improve Water Distribution Between Environment & People

The recent State of the Environment Report and the shortcoming of water supply for the environment urges us to address how we can share water equitably.

Australia’s highly variable climate and complex landscapes make keeping track of all the water extremely challenging. Innovative approaches are needed to better understand what water we have and where all the water goes within river systems such as the Murray Darling Basin, so that we can share the water between the environment and people.

The “Where is All the Water?” project is a multidisciplinary and cross-institutional collaboration between Australian universities, industry and government. Funded by the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE), the initiative aims to improve what we know – how we measure and track all the water in river and groundwater systems – and understand better what we don’t know – where we are missing information about water. Improved informed management of this precious and limited resource can make our state of NSW more resilient in case of extreme drought conditions.

A team of researchers from the DARE partner universities: the University of Sydney, University of New South Wales (UNSW), Australian National University (ANU) and Macquarie University under the industry partner NSW Smart Sensing Network (NSSN) umbrella combined existing government data with new findings from gravity, quantum and low-cost sensors and integrated this with data analytics to aid modelling, predictions and decision making.

As part of the effort, the team DARE developed an initial model that quantified uncertainties in the river water balance, developed a tool to quantify uncertainty in streamflow rating, and tested the inversion and sensitivity of the quantum sensing working closely with the team at UNSW, ANU and Macquarie University on other parts.

The DARE director, Assoc. Prof. Willem Vervoort led the uncertainty quantification work and the integration with the other partners. “This was a great multidisciplinary NSSN project where four Universities combined their strengths to answer significant questions for the NSW government partners.”

“We were able to prove the capacity of new sensing technologies and novel data science approaches to address some of the major monitoring uncertainties in the river systems. Improved understanding of where, how and when we can better monitor water resources will improve decision-making about water sharing and drought-proofing.” he added.

You can read the Project Final Report here.


This project has been funded by the NSW Department of Planning and Environment (DPE). Project partners include DPE, the NSW Smart Sensing Network (NSSN), University of Sydney, Australian National University (ANU), University of New South Wales (UNSW) and Macquarie University.