What does the model discuss?

The process of environmental water management is not complete simply after decisions about environmental flow standards are made and actions based on those decisions are implemented. The outcomes of those decisions, flow standards and their implementation need to be assessed to gauge whether the right decision was indeed made.

Green tree frog (D.Wilson)

Monitoring is a vital component of the ELOHA process as it is in all adaptive management strategies. Adaptive management includes a process of constantly reviewing the outcomes of management actions to assess whether the desired outcome has actually come about and whether further adjustments or refinements are needed. Review of this nature (i.e. monitoring) informs as to the success of management decisions, such as those within a water management plan, and can help to immediately tailor both major or minor changes in implementation (i.e. adaptive adjustments) to ensure the desired outcome is achieved. Within the ELOHA process, monitoring helps also to build on the knowledge of flow ecology relationships. Such relationships, in the absence of a large body of specific empirical knowledge, are hypotheses (often well-supported) which further monitoring can help defend or refute. New knowledge can then be fed back into the ELOHA framework.

Poff et al. (2010[1]) refer to this as “learning by doing” and suggest that scientists must remain involved in the management process for the long term well after implementation strategies are put in place. Effective adaptive management means designing implementing and interpreting research programs to refine flow alteration-ecological response relationships and ensuring that this new knowledge translates into updated, implemented flow standards.

Monitoring programs need to be tailored carefully so that they are able to detect the success of management actions. Therefore, they need to be quantitative and be designed in such ways that precision and accuracy (i.e. statistical power) are adequate to detect negative or positive changes with surety and sufficiently early to allow adaptive adjustments. Moreover, factors being monitored, whether these are organismal or ecosystem responses (i.e. fish breeding or foodweb structure) or societal (e.g. indigenous harvest or value of the recreational fishing sector), need to be those that are indeed related to changes in flow regime. Furthermore, the outcomes of monitoring need to be communicated to all levels of the stakeholder with a high level of success.

Through future adaptive learning and research, the ELOHA framework can provide a foundation for refining efforts to optimise the tradeoffs inherent between resources exploitation and resource conservation.

Pelican at rest (B.Pusey)


  1. Poff, N.L., et al. The ecological limits of hydrologic alteration (ELOHA): a new framework for developing regional environmental flow standards. Freshwater Biology 55, 147-170 (2010).


Cabbage palms on the Mitchell River (B Pusey)

Related projects & resources

Research undertaken within TRaCK provides useful guidelines for future monitoring of water resource development. Information on this research can be found at under the various projects listed below.

1.3: Collaborative water planning in northern Australia

This project aims to improve the certainty, legitimacy and efficiency of water planning processes across northern Australia. To do this, the team are developing a tool-kit of good practices to engage industry, Indigenous and rural communities in water planning. They are also working with water agencies to improve water planning approaches.

1.4: Knowledge integration and science delivery

Project 1.4 aimed to improve our understanding of the functioning and management of tropical rivers and coasts by integrating the knowledge that is being developed across the TRaCK program. To that end, TRaCK developed concepts, methods and tools that deliver such knowledge to a range of stakeholders, especially in support of natural resource management. Our approach to knowledge integration is based on a conceptual framework known as Catchment-to-Coast Management Strategy Evaluation. This framework recognises the various elements of an adaptive management approach, including (i) management decisions, (ii) management actions, (iii) our knowledge of the natural system, (iv) our capability for observation, (v) the assessment process and (vi) our ‘learning by doing’.

More information about this project and the software tools developed to aid scenario evaluation can be found at

This page describes a software package that is being developed to evaluate different management scenarios for tropical rivers focussing on the Daly River in the Northern Territory as a case study. The software allows users to design and support adaptive management plans while still including specific answers to management questions, such as the effects of water allocation planning on social, economic and environmental performance indicators.

A report detailing the development and application of this software - Pantus, F. et al. (2011). Integrated Science support for Modelling Australia’s Tropical Rivers: a case study in the Daly River Catchment – can be found at .

Indigenous Engagement

A number of new projects within the synthesis and adoption phase of TRaCK examine the ways in which Indigenous people can be better involved in the water planning process, including monitoring. Information on these projects can be found at: and

Community-based, participatory natural resource management and monitoring programs

The Monitoring River Health Project ( ) aimed to draw together research and experience about the social, cultural and technical issues associated with monitoring river health in the wet-dry tropics.

The project team is working with Federal, state and territory governments to synthesise the learnings from previous TRaCK projects and other monitoring projects, and provide options for alternative and new approaches to river health monitoring in the region.

The past few years have seen increasing investment in community-based, participatory natural resource management and monitoring programs across northern Australia. These include the Working on Country Program, the Turtle and Dugong Project, and the Kimberley Waterways Education Project. TRaCK also trialled a community-based participatory monitoring program with Indigenous groups in the Daly (NT) and Fitzroy (WA) catchments.

These programs have sought to involve local people in monitoring aquatic ecosystems, and are potentially very important in the region because while vast areas, sparse populations and limited government resources make widespread monitoring programs difficult, community interest in keeping local waterways healthy is high.

A number of reports relevant to monitoring that have come from this and other similar projects include:

Towards a Water Quality Monitoring and Management Framework for the Katherine and Daly River Catchment

Biogeochemical implications of climate change for tropical rivers and floodplains

Northern Australia, whither the mercury? and

Trial of the Framework for the Assessment of River and Wetland Health (FARWH) in the Wet/Dry Tropics for the Daly and Fitzroy Rivers

A key component of national water reform was the development of a nationally consistent approach to river health assessment and reporting. Typically, information and knowledge on river health was previously patchy and the capacity for developing a national approach to river health assessment was limited.

The National Water Commission has developed a national framework that can form the basis of comparable national river and wetland health assessments, and has the capacity to bring together results of existing broad-scale assessments conducted at state, territory and basin scales.

The Framework for the Assessment of River and Wetland Health (FARWH) is being trialled by TRaCK to evaluate the effectiveness of the Framework to assess river health in the wet/dry tropics, and contribute to north Australian river management.

Over the past few years, the FARWH framework has been trialled and tested in focal catchments across Australia. This document describes in detail the field trial of the FARWH in the Daly and Fitzroy river catchments. The field trials were undertaken over the 2009 dry season (July–October). Forty-one and 37 sites were assessed in the Daly and Fitzroy rivers respectively. Data was collected at each site for the water quality, physical form, fringing zone and aquatic biota themes. The hydrology and catchment disturbance themes were based on existing data.

The use of fish as monitors of river health

Many studies have revealed that freshwater fish are useful target organisms in monitoring programs providing that sampling programs are appropriately designed and conducted (e.g. Pusey et al 1998[1]; Kennard et al. 2005[2], 2006a[3],2006b[4] & 2007[5]). The sampling procedures used in TRaCK related research have been described in the following report

Field Manual - Including protocols for quantitative sampling of fish assemblages, habitat, water quality and sample preservation.

It provides a clear guide to quantitative fish sampling in rivers of northern Australia


  1. Pusey, B.J. Methods addressing the flow requirements of fish. Comparative evaluation of environmental flow assessment techniques: review of methods. pp.64-103 (1998).
  2. Kennard, M.J., Arthington, A.H., Pusey, B.J. & Harch, B.D. Are alien fish a reliable indicator of river health? . Freshwater Biology 50, pp.174-193 (2005).
  3. Kennard, M.J., Harch, B.D., Pusey, B.J. & Arthington, A.H. Accurately defining the reference condition for summary biotic metraics: a comparison of four approaches. Hydrobiologia 572, pp.151-170 (2006).
  4. Mackay, S.J., Kennard, M.J., Pusey, B.J., Arthington, A.H. & Harch, B.D. Development and application of a predictive model of freshwater fish assemblage composition to evaluate river health in eastern Australia. Hydrobiologia 572, pp.33-57 (2006).
  5. Arthington, A.H., Kennard, M.J., Pusey, B.J., Harch, B.D. & Dore, E. Estimating local stream fish biodiversity attributes: sampling effort and efficiency at two spatial scales. . Marine and Freshwater Research 57, pp.635-653 (2007).


Environmental water terminology

A top down environmental water assessment method used in Queensland in which ecological condition is assessed against known deviations from the natural or pre-development flow regime whilst also taking into account the impacts of water infrastructure on ecological condition.
Bottom–up methods
Reconstructing an altered flow regime by sequentially adding water needed for specific functions i.e. adding a flushing flow designed to move refine sediment or a maintenance flow designed to provide a minimum amount of wetted area.
Cultural flows
Water required to meet the cultural and spiritual needs of Indigenous people. Environmental flows A term that supplanted the term instream flows in recognition that water was needed for more than just the maintenance of habitat quality and quality. Water is needed to provide cues for biota to move and to reproduce, to provide areas for food production, for refuge from temperature extremes, for maintenance of channel form and substrate composition, to create and maintain new habitats such as floodplains and tributaries, and many other needs.
Environmental water
A term that supplants the term environmental flows in recognition that flowing water is not the only water critical to the maintenance of ecosystem function. Hyporheic water (water held under the stream bed) and groundwater are also critical compartments of environmental water and groundwater dependent aquatic habitats may never be connected to the riverine environment.
Holistic flow management
A conceptual framework first described in 1992 in which water needs are considered more broadly than just those relating to in-stream or in-channel needs e.g. estuaries and the near shore marine environment are dependent on freshwater inputs as are riparian forests and off-channel wetlands.
Hyporheic water
(water held under the stream bed) and groundwater are also critical compartments of environmental water and groundwater dependent aquatic habitats may never be connected to the riverine environment.
Instream flow incremental methodology: a computer driven means of assessing changes in in-channel habitat quantity and quality.
Instream flows
The original term for environmental flow management, principally concerned with the maintenance of habitat quantity and quality defined by depth, water velocity and substrate composition. Typically, instream flow investigations of were undertaken at small spatial scales – i.e. at the reach scale.
Top-down methods
Environmental water assessment methods in which occurs the simulated sequential removal of volumes of water until an impact of nominated severity occurs, thus defining the limit below which this aspect of the flow regime can be altered.

ELOHA process navigator

ELOHA Process navigator Use this navigator to move around the ELOHA process  Hydrologic Foundation River classification River classification Flow Alteration Flow-ecology linkagesSocial processesMonitoring