A multiobjective ant colony optimization approach for scheduling environmental flow management alternatives with application to the River Murray, Australia


In regulated river systems, such as the River Murray in Australia, the efficient use of water to preserve and restore biota in the river, wetlands, and floodplains is of concern for water managers. Available management options include the timing of river flow releases and operation of wetland flow control structures. However, the optimal scheduling of these environmental flow management alternatives is a difficult task, since there are generally multiple wetlands and floodplains with a range of species, as well as a large number of management options that need to be considered. Consequently, this problem is a multiobjective optimization problem aimed at maximizing ecological benefit while minimizing water allocations within the infrastructure constraints of the system under consideration. This paper presents a multiobjective optimization framework, which is based on a multiobjective ant colony optimization approach, for developing optimal trade-offs between water allocation and ecological benefit. The framework is applied to a reach of the River Murray in South Australia. Two studies are formulated to assess the impact of (i) upstream system flow constraints and (ii) additional regulators on this trade-off. The results indicate that unless the system flow constraints are relaxed, there is limited additional ecological benefit as allocation increases. Furthermore the use of regulators can increase ecological benefits while using less water. The results illustrate the utility of the framework since the impact of flow control infrastructure on the trade-offs between water allocation and ecological benefit can be investigated, thereby providing valuable insight to managers.