Can we manage groundwater? A method to determine the quantitative testability of groundwater management plans

E. K. White, T. J. Peterson, J. Costelloe, A. W. Western, E. Carrara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Groundwater is the world's largest freshwater resource and due to overextraction, levels have declined in many regions causing extensive social and environmental impacts. Groundwater management seeks to balance and mitigate the detrimental impacts of development, with plans commonly used to outline management pathways. Thus, plan efficiency is crucial, but seldom are plans systematically and quantitatively assessed for effectiveness. This study frames groundwater management as a system control problem in order to develop a novel testability assessment rubric to determine if plans meet the requirements of a control loop, and subsequently, whether they can be quantitatively tested. Seven components of a management plan equivalent to basic components of a control loop were determined, and requirements of each component necessary to enable testability were defined. Each component was weighted based upon proposed relative importance, then segmented into rated categories depending on the degree the requirements were met. Component importance varied but, a defined objective or acceptable impact was necessary for plans to be testable. The rubric was developed within the context of the Australian groundwater management industry, and while use of the rubric is not limited to Australia, it was applied to 15 Australian groundwater management plans and approximately 47% were found to be testable. Considering the importance of effective groundwater management, and the central role of plans, our lack of ability to test many plans is concerning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4863-4882
Number of pages20
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • control theory
  • effective management
  • groundwater
  • management

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