Adaptive management for water quality planning – from theory to practice

Adaptive management for water quality planning – from theory to practice

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  CSIRO  PUBLISHING   Marine and Freshwater Research , 2009,  60 , 1189–1195 Adaptive management for water quality planning –from theory to practice Rachel Eberhard  A,H ,  Catherine J. Robinson B ,  Jane Waterhouse C,G ,  John Parslow  D ,  Barry Hart  E ,  Rodger Grayson F and Bruce Taylor  B A Eberhard Consulting, 55 Park Road West, Dutton Park, Qld 4102, Australia. B CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Queensland Bioscience Precinct, 306 Carmody Road,St Lucia, Qld 4067, Australia. C CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Davies Laboratory, University Drive,Townsville,Qld 4810, Australia. D CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Castray Esplanade, Hobart,Tas. 7001, Australia. E Water Science Pty Ltd, PO Box 2128, Echuca,Vic. 3564, Australia. F Catchments to Sea Pty Ltd, PO Box 948, Lakes Entrance,Vic. 3909, Australia. G Present address: Coasts to Oceans, PO Box 290, Belgian Gardens, Qld 4810, Australia. H Corresponding author. Email: Abstract.  Adaptive management has been promoted as a structured approach to learning in response to the uncertaintyassociated with managing complex systems. We developed and tested a protocol to guide an adaptive approach to water quality management in north-eastern Australia. The protocol articulates a framework for documenting uncertainties and performanceexpectations,negotiatingfeedbackandanticipatingiterativeandtransformativeresponsestofuturescenarios.A Water Quality Improvement Plan developed for the Tully–Murray catchment in the Great Barrier Reef region wasused to test the protocol and three benefits of its use were identified. First, developing rigorous and timely monitoringand evaluation ensures that opportunities for iterative planning are realised. Second, anticipating future endogenous or exogenous changes to the plan enables the early initiation of actions to inform transformative planning responses. Finally,the protocol exposed the need to coordinate multi-scalar responses to tackle environmental knowledge and managementuncertainties and assumptions. The protocol seeks to provide a practical translation of adaptive planning theory that willenable the benefits of adaptive management to be realised on the ground. Additionalkeywords:  collaboration,GreatBarrierReef,integrated,iterative,naturalresourcemanagement,partnerships,risk, transformative, uncertainty, watershed planning. Introduction Adaptive management emerged as a scientific response to themanagement of complex systems in the 1970s (Holling 1978;Lee 1993). An adaptive approach involves adjusting actions inresponse to feedback on progress towards management objec-tives, as well as responding to contextual changes (anticipatedor not) that may arise. Implementation of adaptive managementapproaches has occurred across a spectrum of styles (Broderick 2008), from formal experimental approaches (Walters 1986;Gunderson 1999) to recent work that focuses on the role of  participation and social learning processes (Berkes and Folke1998; Pahl-Wostl 2006). Although adaptive management is awell established concept that has received significant theoreticalattention, there is limited evidence of its practical effectiveness(see Walters and Holling 1990; Lee 1999; Rogers  et al  . 2000).Schreiber  etal  .(2004)listedthevulnerabilitiesofadaptiveman-agementtobothscientificlimitationsandsocialandinstitutionalconstraints.Littleinformationisavailabletomanagersonhowtoundertake adaptive management (Allan and Curtis 2003). In the presentpaper,ourfocusisonapracticalapproachtoguidestruc-tured learning in response to uncertainty in knowledge at thecatchment scale.It is useful to consider the distinction between adaptiveresponses through planning and implementation cycles sepa-rately. The planning cycle refers to the process that typicallyinvolves significant institutional review (i.e. a new plan) andoperates over a longer time cycle (typically 5–10 years). Dur-ing plan review, goals, objectives and strategies are changed inresponse to changing circumstances and change in knowledge.During the life of the plan, there is a series of relatively rapidimplementation cycles during which management respondsto feedback on progress towards objectives. This results in twodistinct cycles of feedback and learning, with the implemen-tation feedback cycle nested within the larger planning cycle(Fig.1).Theimplementationcyclecanberelatedto‘single-looplearning’that describes an iterative process that results in incre-mental policy change. Alternatively, a process of ‘double-looplearning’ (Argyris and Schön 1978) describes transformative © CSIRO 2009 10.1071/MF08347 1323-1650/09/111189  1190  Marine and Freshwater Research  R. Eberhard  et al. Outer loop(planning cycle)Inner loop(managingimplementation) Fig. 1.  Planning and implementation cycles of feedback (adapted fromJones 2005).  planning-cycle changes where the problem is reframed as aresult of critical assumptions being revealed and tested. In thissense, transformative planning is a response to fundamentalchanges in the underlying knowledge of system behaviour andresponse. Throughout this paper, we relate adaptation throughthe implementation cycle to iterative planning, and adapta-tion through the planning cycle as potentially transformative planning.Theprotocolwasappliedtocatchmentsinnorth-easternAus-tralia (fig. 1 in Kroon 2009), where the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is threatened by the water quality impacts of land-based pollution (Hughes 2008). The Australian and Queensland Gov-ernments developed the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan(Anonymous 2003 a ) that contains actions to manage thesethreats.The Reef Water Quality Protection Plan is supported bycatchment-based Water Quality Improvement Plans (WQIPs).WQIPs are developed and implemented by non-governmentorganisations (regional natural resource management bodies)and rely heavily on collaborative partnerships to support volun-tary practice change through a variety of incentive mechanisms(Kroon2009).Thiscontexthastwocriticalimplicationsforplandevelopment and implementation: knowledge uncertainty andcollaboration.Uncertainty in complex systems arises from both irreducibleuncertaintyinherentintheissueandthepresenceofmultipleper-spectives (Funtowicz and Ravetz 1994). Knowledge integrationdescribesthechallengeofdevelopingaholistic‘systems’under-standing from diverse and often incomplete or inadequate dataand information sources. Kroon  et al.  (2009) identified know-ledge integration challenges in resolving tensions between theuncertainty and bias in different types of knowledge brought tothe planning process. Negotiating solutions within this ‘swampof real life’ (Schön 1995) highlights the importance of col-laborative planning, action and learning processes. The use of deliberative processes to facilitate this negotiation across multi- ple institutions (social learning) is promoted as a mechanism tosupporttransformativeplanningandaction(SteyaertandJiggins2007). Methods Theanalysispresentedhereistheresultofaniterativeprocessof reflectionanddiscoursewithinamulti-disciplinaryprojectteam.Theprojectteamcomprisedbiophysicalscientists(authorsB.H.,J.P. and R.G.), social scientists (C.R. and B.T.) and practition-ers (R.E. and J.W.).All members of the team were concurrentlyengaged in catchment-level planning activities across the GBR and elsewhere in Australia, through scientific advice, sciencecoordination, strategic planning and research roles. The projectteamwasthusaCommunityofPractice(Wenger1998)thatbuiltupon a shared history of experiential learning and reflectionthrough open discussion around the business of water quality planning. The deliberations of the project team were stronglyinfluenced by the practical challenges faced by water quality planners in the GBR. The project team considered the tech-nical challenges of knowledge integration and synthesis, andthe social dimensions of collaborative partnerships to be strongdeterminants of the capacity and nature of planning adaptation. Protocol design and description of elements Thepurposeoftheadaptivemanagementprotocolistoestablisha‘bestpracticestandard’toguidecatchmentplannersindevelop-ing and articulating adaptive approaches to water quality plans.Theprojectteamidentifiedthreecategoriesofknowledgeuncer-tainty that may trigger iterative or transformative changes to the plan: system understanding, measuring progress and anticipat-ing changes. Each category contains two elements that describethe current knowledge and actions proposed. Negotiating, doc-umenting and communicating the uncertainty and responseswere considered to contribute to both the deliberative processesthat support social learning as well as a structured approach tomanaging uncertainty.Thefirstcategoryintheprotocolrelatestosystemunderstand-ing, and includes a conceptual model and learning objectives.The purpose of the conceptual model is to describe (in simpleterms) the plan’s logic of actions to outcomes through a seriesof cause–effect linkages. This element effectively describesthe  hypothesis  of the plan, based upon the integration of cur-rent knowledge, and provides the baseline knowledge synthesisfor iterative and transformative planning. Actions identified toaddress critical uncertainties within the conceptual model aredescribed as learning objectives. By articulating the learningobjectives, this element of the protocol seeks to provide direc-tion for priority investigation, assessment or research activitiesto reduce uncertainty or test and resolve critical assumptionsin the model. If achieved, the learning objectives could con-firm or challenge the theory of action to outcomes articulated,and thus support iterative or transformative planning responses,depending on the timing and nature of the response triggered.The next category of the protocol addresses uncertaintyin measuring performance over time. Performance trajectoriesarticulate the theory of change in elements of the conceptualmodel over time. While mapping performance trajectories islikely to prove technically challenging (and draw upon researchfindings and expert judgement), the trajectories communicatemore information than targets set for some time in the future.Performance trajectories allow the consideration of expectedlags in response times, an important issue when planning key  Adaptive management for water quality planning  Marine and Freshwater Research  1191 milestones or triggers for review, and performance evaluation.Feedback loops describe the monitoring, assessment and report-ing actions that will provide feedback on progress over time. Byarticulating what, when, how and by whom feedback will occur,thiselementoftheprotocolisdesignedtoensuremonitoringandmodelling activities will support iterative planning responses.The last category of the protocol encompasses the anticipa-tion of future scenarios that would require changes to the plan,and plan responses to those scenarios.This category is designedto open up the deliberative process to draw upon a wide know-ledgebase,includingbureaucratic,technicalandpracticalexpe-riential knowledge, to consider what internal or external eventsare likely to have an impact on the implementation of the plan.Explicitlyconsideringthesescenariosenablestheearlyprepara-tion of additional or alternative strategies and guides supportingresearchanddevelopmentprioritiesfortransformativeplanning. Protocol testing  TheprojectteamreviewedthedraftTullyWQIP(Kroon2008)asa case study to inform the application of the draft protocol.TheTullyWQIP was chosen as aWQIP nearing completion that hada strong scientific foundation.The purpose of the review was to provideconcreteexamplestoinformandtestthedevelopmentof theprotocol.TheauthoroftheTullyWQIPwasalsointerviewedto provide further information and clarification of uncertaintyand risks that may not have been evident in the then-draftWQIPdocument.The draft protocol was then iteratively tested and refinedthroughscientificandpractitionerreview.Theformerwasunder-taken by a scientific advisory panel and the latter by a panel of regional and catchment planners. Both of these groups had beenformally established as part of the governance arrangements of the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan. First, the two groupsundertookapracticalexerciseusingtheprotocoltoworkthrougha hypothetical scenario, and then discussed the results. Second,the revised protocol and a worked example of its application(developed by the project team from the Tully case study) were presentedtothetwogroupsfortheirconsiderationandfeedback.Inthisway,thepractitionerplannerswereactivelyinvolvedasco-researchers, contributing to the co-construction of the protocolin a joint process with the formal research team. Results System understanding  In the Tully WQIP, the system understanding is expressed asa conceptual model based on a hierarchy of targets as per the National Framework for Natural Resource Management Stan-dards and Targets (Anonymous 2003 b ). An aspirational targetof at least an 80% reduction in nitrate load leaving rivers isset to meet draft marine water quality guidelines (GBRMPA2007) to protect the health and resilience of inshore coral reefs.Modelling, however, suggests that this is not attainable from theadoption of the current suite of agricultural ‘best’management practices, and instead an interim target of a 25% reduction innitrate load is adopted, based upon modelling of 100% adop-tion of current best management practices (Armour   et al  . 2009).Althoughthelevelofuncertaintyassociatedwiththesemodelledestimates can be high (Hateley  et al  . 2006; Wooldridge  et al  .2006),theTullyloadestimateswereassessedasonlymoderatelyuncertain because of general agreement between the modelledestimates and monitoring data (Brodie  et al.  2009).The key uncertainties identified by the catchment planner includedtheeffectivenessofincentivesinacceleratingtheadop-tion of best management practices, and the effectiveness of bestmanagement practices in achieving water quality benefits. Theinterim target adopted by the WQIP is still an ambitious one.Some doubt exists as to the likelihood of achieving 100% adop-tion of any practice, and particularly in achieving this within5yearsinsugarcane(themaincropgrown),whichhasacroppingcycle of 4–5 years. Performance measurement  The performance trajectories presented in the worked example(Fig. 2) were prepared by the project team using their expertknowledge. Different response characteristics are anticipatedacross elements and scales. For example, the delivery of incen-tives is assumed to be steady over time, while adoption rates areexpected to accelerate initially as acceptance of new practicesis built, then tail off as additional interest with the remaining‘non-adopters’wanes. Water quality benefits are expected to beslowly realised.There was scant information available to informthedraftingofthesetrajectories,andtheprojectteamconsideredthe current knowledge base insufficient to attempt to generate a performance curve for the ecological response of coral reefs towater quality improvements.Similarly, the feedback loops described in the worked exam- plearebasedongenericrolesandresponsibilitiesformonitoringand evaluation in the GBR region that are not necessarilyendorsed by all the organisations in question. For example,the regional NRM body reports actions and outputs each year,whereas industry partners could report adoption rates of key practices, and the state government has nominal responsibil-ity for monitoring and modelling the impact of practices onnitrate loads. However, current monitoring initiatives in thecatchment and across the GBR focus on measuring water qual-ity at river mouths and the health of the marine ecosystem. ThedraftWQIP proposes monitoring and evaluation of intermediateoutcomes, such as changes in adoption rates of recommendedagriculturalpracticesandpaddock-scaleoutcomes,buttheinsti-tutionalresponsibilitiesformonitoring,evaluationandreportingare unclear. Future scenarios The scenarios in the worked example were developed by the project team from the interview with theWQIP planner and dis-cussions with the regional planners group. The two examplesshown relate to adoption rates of new management practices not beingrealised(changestoprogramdeliveryareanticipated)andthedifficultyindemonstratingwaterqualitybenefitsasaresultof changed management practices (the development of alternativemanagementpracticesisanticipated).Whilethecurrentstrategyin the Tully WQIP relies on accelerated adoption of key man-agement practices, the plan identifies other actions that wouldincrease the pool of available strategies in the future. Of mostinterest is the prospect of new nutrient management practices insugarcane that are expected to realise far greater water quality benefits (up to 86% reduction in nitrate loads) (Armour   et al. 2009) than current industry standards. This appears to address  1192  Marine and Freshwater Research  R. Eberhard  et al. CategoryElementsManagement actionsManagement actiontargetsResource conditiontargetsAspirational targetsConceptualmodelSystemunderstandingLearningobjectivesEffectiveness ofincentives to improveuptake of new practicesEffectiveness ofagricultural practices inimproving water qualityUnderstanding influenceof catchment processesUnderstanding reefresilience and recoverytrajectoriesPerformancetrajectories 5432167 Years5432167 Years5432167 Years    I  n  c  e  n   t   i  v  e  s   (   $   )   A   d  o  p   t   i  o  n  r  a   t  e  s   (   %   )   M  o   d  e   l   l  e   d  n   i   t  r  a   t  e   l  o  a   d  s Highly uncertainMeasuringprogressFeedbackloopsCatchment group reportactions and outputs eachyearAgricultural industrypartners report rates ofimproved practice uptake(2 years)State government modelswater quality loads andimpact of changedpracticesMarine park authoritymonitors reef health andwater quality impactsScenariosInsufficient funding tosupport full programInvestigative researchdetermines that waterquality benefits of keypractices are overstatedClimate change severelyimpacts reef ecosystemsAnticipatingchangeResponsesAdjust performancetrajectoriesAdjust program deliverymethodsReconsider investment inwater quality management Actions to influencebehavioure.g. awareness,education, extension,incentives100% adoption ofnutrient managementpractices within 5 years25% reduction innitrate loads fromrivers in 10 years  0.5 µ g L  1 chlorophyll a in coastal watersin  50 yearsCoral reef health andresilience restoredin  50 years Redirect incentives tobetter practicesExpected adoption ratesmay not be realised Fig. 2.  A worked example of the adaptive management protocol applied to nitrate management in the Tully catchment. the gap between what is achievable from the adoption of cur-rent best management practices and what is desirable to protectmarine ecosystems. This is an example of anticipating iterativechanges to the plan as additional actions become available for implementation.Plansareimplementedagainstabackgroundofchangingbio- physicalandsocio-economicconditions.IntheTullyWQIParea,the area of forestry land use is expected to expand in the future,driven by the emerging carbon trading market.TheTully WQIPidentifiedthedevelopmentofaregionalforestrycodeofpracticeas important preparation for this anticipated change.Of course, not all anticipated changes are well understood.Climate-change scenarios are being rapidly updated, and areexpected to influence pressures through changes in land-use andmanagement practices as well as ecological responses such asreducedresilienceofcoralreefsthatmaysufferincreasedbleach-ing episodes (McCook   et al  . 2007). Such changes could trigger transformative planning responses if the knowledge base andstrategic responses change fundamentally. However, interroga-tion of models suggests that the direct impact of future climatescenarios (2030 and 2070) on the extent of sugarcane land useand the nitrate export from these lands to be negligible (Webster  et al.  2009). Discussion The challenge of adaptive management  ThemanagementofwaterqualityimpactsontheGBRischarac-terisedbyhighuncertaintyandgreaturgency,highlightedbytheinability of the Tully WQIP to articulate a strategy to meet theaspirational load reduction targets required to protect the GBR,and little understanding of the critical time scales in which toachieve this.WQIPs have no regulatory capacity so cannot con-siderorrecommendcomplementaryregulatoryapproachessuchas land-use change. This is a common water planning experi-ence, with Ison  et al  . (2007) characterising water managementas a complex system of uncertainty and conflict between mul-tiple stakeholders. Participation of those involved and affectedthroughout the planning process from conception to implemen-tationisafundamentalprincipleforeffectiveintegratedplanningsystems (Lane and McDonald 2005; Robinson  et al.  2009).Yet the capacity of decentralised institutions to deal with thediverseandcompetingintereststhataffectresourcemanagement priorities and activities remains a challenge. The pressure for rigorous and collaborative approaches to adaptive managementis high.Although adaptive management has been promoted as a sci-entific response to uncertainty, the documented failure ratesare high (Gunderson 1999; Schreiber   et al.  2004; Gundersonand Light 2006). Walters (1997) cited modelling difficulties,the costs and risks of large-scale experimentation, self-interestin research and management organisations, and fundamentalvalue conflicts as barriers to adaptive management. Folke  et al. (2007) suggested that the perception of failure may reflecta lack of appreciation of the social dimensions of ecosys-tem management, which in turn has stimulated a growinginterest in the dynamics of institutional change and resiliencethinking.  Adaptive management for water quality planning  Marine and Freshwater Research  1193 Planning to adapt  The protocol presented in the present paper provides the meansto document and plan responses to the known uncertaintiesin system understanding, performance monitoring and futurescenarios.Regionalwaterqualityplannersinnorth-easternAus-tralia identified major uncertainties in each of these three areas.ThetestingoftheprotocolwiththeTullycasestudydemonstratedthe potential benefits of its application.While the protocol plansfor adaptation, the nature and timing of the responses triggeredwill determine whether the planning changes are iterative or transformative in nature. Monitoring for management  The challenges associated with monitoring and evaluatingchanges in resource condition at the catchment scale are welldocumented(seeAnonymous2004;ChessonandKingham2005forAustralianexamples).ThedraftTullyWQIPdescribesasetof objectives, and a set of actions to achieve them, without clearlyarticulating how monitoring will feed back into managementdecisions during the life of the plan or upon its review.Attribut-ing changes in end-of-catchment loads to progressive adoptionof specific agricultural practices is likely to prove difficult. Lagtimes and variability constrain the ability to directly measurechangesinwaterqualityattheend-of-catchmentinmanagementtimeframes (Bainbridge  et al  . 2009).The current Government monitoring programs in the Tullycatchment andacrossthe GBR focusonend-of-catchment loadsand marine ecosystem health indicators, yet the protocol docu-mentation clearly highlights that these measures are unlikely toshow responses within the management timeframe of the plan(5 years), if at all. Environmental plans commonly use informa-tion from monitoring and modelling to develop objectives andstrategies, but less often use these tools to investigate the conse-quencesofuncertaintyinachievingtheplan’sobjectives(Bearlin et al  . 2002; Schreiber   et al  . 2004). Embedding adaptation moreexplicitly into environmental plans entails thinking about how(andwhen)theresultsofmonitoringwillactuallyinformchangein management actions. The draft Tully Plan identified the ben-efits of monitoring intermediate outcomes to provide timely performance feedback and allow iterative planning. Supportingthe negotiation of a rigorous approach to performance mea-surement is the first practical benefit that emerges from theapplication of the protocol.  Anticipating changes The distinction between iterative and transformative learning(Argyris and Schön 1978) proved a useful construct for adap-tivemanagementresearchandpractice.Thedifferenceishelpfulin separating the issues, responses and time scales associatedwith plan implementation and plan review. Actions to sup- port implementation (iterative planning) focus on improvingeffectiveness by adjusting actions in response to performancefeedback (described above) and short-term trial, research andinvestigation activities. Actions to support transformative plan-ningwillinvolvereviewandreflectiononthegoal,objectivesandstrategiesoftheplan.Actionsinresponsecouldincludedevelop-ing alternate strategies, reforming key policies and anticipatingsignificant changes that may impact on the achievement of planobjectives.Importantly, some transformative changes can be devel-oped early in the life of an environmental plan, and the TullyWQIP provides a number of examples where actions are initi-ated that may support transformative responses in the future.Gunderson  et al.  (1995) described transformative planningresponses as being driven by endogenous or exogenous changesthat trigger a plan crisis and adaptation. The protocol testingdocumented anticipated endogenous changes in system under-standing, as well as exogenous changes driven by an expandingforestry sector and climate change scenarios. Maintaining anevolving strategic perspective through the plan implementa-tion phase could contribute to the institutional flexibility thatLane and McDonald (2002) suggested is essential for effectiveenvironmental planning.  Appropriate scales The challenges of knowledge integration associated with thedevelopment of the Tully WQIP noted by Kroon  et al.  (2009)also have implications for the adaptation of management and planning efforts. The capacity of decentralised natural resourcemanagement groups to facilitate the integration and translationof scientific and local knowledge at catchment and other scaleshas been questioned (Lane  et al  . 2004). In the testing of the pro-tocol, it was evident that transformative planning efforts requireknowledgefeedbacksandmanagementresponsesfrommultiplesources and scales. Many of the uncertainties identified in thiscase study were relevant to other regional WQIPs in the GBR,and action responses appear prohibitively expensive for individ-ual catchment planning organisations. For example, monitoringand evaluation of outcomes, development of new agriculturalindustry‘bestmanagementpractices’,andclimatechangeadap-tation are all action responses that are relevant across scales.These findings are consistent with those of Holling  et al.  (1998)who found that environmental resource issues commonly needto be tackled simultaneously at several levels, and the potentialfor synergistic nesting of institutional responses described byFolke  et al.  (2007).Governmentpolicyframeworksneedtobeclearandsupport-ivefordevolvedplanningprocessestohavesignificantinfluenceat higher levels of governance (Koontz  et al  . 2004). The casestudy highlighted the lack of resolution of institutional monitor-ingresponsibilitiesintheGBR,althoughthecatchmentplanners’forumholdspromiseforcross-catchmentcoordination.Address-ing and responding to these broader uncertainties requires thenegotiation of bridges across the formal boundaries between planning systems and scales. In the GBR, this would involvea more explicit linkage of the objectives, strategy and timing betweentheoverarchingpolicydocument(theReefWaterQual-ity Protection Plan) and catchment-scale WQIPs. In the doubleloop model (Fig. 1) used in the present paper, the inner loop of the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan would explicitly repre-sent the sum of the planning cycles across all GBR catchments.Such an approach could support horizontal alignment acrosscatchments through recognising and supporting their collectiveoutcomes, as well as vertical alignment with government policyand planning processes at the larger scale. While this approach
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