The Role of Decision Support Systems (DSS) in Planning For Improved Water Quality in Coastal Lakes

The Role of Decision Support Systems (DSS) in Planning For Improved Water Quality in Coastal Lakes

R. A. Kelly (isNRM Prt Ltd, Australia) and W. S. Merritt (The Australian National University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-881-4.ch003


Coastal lakes are ecosystems which provide significant environmental, social and economic values. They are a key habitat for many aquatic species, particularly for juvenile fish and aquatic invertebrates. They are a focus for human activity, including recreation, tourism, and many forms of industry and production such as oyster and commercial fisheries. More and more the foreshore areas of lakes are seen as a desirable place to live, with urban development a key pressure on lake systems. However current development, use and management of these systems mean that these values are already under threat. Environmental managers, urban planners and other decision makers need to make complex decisions about patterns of current and future use of these systems which allow for the trade-offs associated with various activities to be effectively taken into account. Decision support systems (DSS) are seen to have a role to play in supporting these activities.When developed properly, DSS can support decision making processes by providing users with a tool that shows the relationships between drivers of a system and outcomes. Environmental outcomes (e.g. estuary health) are controlled by often complex biophysical, ecological, economic and/or social drivers and processes. In this context a DSS should address uncertainty in data, knowledge and predictions, and allow users to explore the sensitivity of outcomes to controllable drivers (e.g. management actions), uncontrollable drivers (e.g. climate variability) and uncertainty. The DSS development and adoption process also needs to be flexible to a changing decision making environment. Ultimately the success of any DSS will depend not only on its technical capacity, including the robustness of any science underlying it, or the ease of use of any interface but also on the circumstances into which it arrives: the time and money allowed for training, capacity building, incorporation of stakeholder comments and development of trust between DSS developers, scientists and the community; the way in which the DSS is embedded in the decision making process; and the ‘politics’ and constantly changing face of the decision making environment.This chapter will discuss issues regarding the development of a DSS under typical planning timeframes where there are limited resources (time and budgetary) and where current and future management issues may not be certain and/or may change over the planning timeframe. The chapter largely draws on experiences gained during the development and application of the CAPER DSS in the Great Lakes, NSW Australia.
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A Role For Dss In Natural Resources Management

There are numerous classifications and definitions of decision support tools in the scientific literature. McIntosh et al. (2008) noted that formal computer-based Decision and Information Support Tools (DIST) include Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs), DSS (including Environmental DSS) and Geographical Information Systems (GIS). The issues discussed in this chapter about development and adoption of DSS are relevant to all types of decision support tools where the primary roles of the tool is to support decision-making through scenario development and implementation and the facilitation of communication, group learning and/or consensus building.

The following discussion focuses on the characteristics of decision making and management in complex environmental systems, how DSS have the potential to support these activities, and the technical, social and political barriers that have limited adoption of many DSS.

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