Decision support tools for managing freshwater inflows
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Estuaries are important transitional zones where freshwater and marine water meet and mix. This freshwater is referred to as freshwater inflows. Estuaries are the link between streams and rivers and the sea. Freshwater inflows provide nutrients, sediments, and regulate salinity levels. An estuary cannot properly function without freshwater inflows from rivers and streams. Landscape changes caused mainly by anthropogenic influences are altering the amount of freshwater inflows to estuaries. Humans are diverting fresh water from rivers and streams. As the human population grows and the strain on water resources continues, the ability to effectively manage freshwater inflows into estuaries is becoming increasingly important. The purpose of the current project was to design support tool frameworks for managing freshwater inflows to estuaries, then creating a web-based implementation of the decision support tool, and lastly, surveying stakeholders to gauge its effectiveness. There is a great need for decision support tools to provide science-based information to policy makers, managers, and stakeholders. A decision support system is a structured system that can be used to integrate ecosystem based management (EBM) strategies in an organized manner. A decision support system traditionally assimilates operations processing systems into a framework where all are easily accessible. Decision support systems aid managers in the decision-making process and support the transference of knowledge to all levels of the system. A review of structural components of decision support tools in general, and existing environmental decision support tools, provided guidance for the creation of a web-based decision support tool to inform managers regarding issues relating freshwater inflows to estuarine system health. The web-based decision support tool created here is called Inflows. This tool offers information on freshwater inflows and estuarine systems to users through the use of EBM strategies and web-based technology. Integration of this broad range of data, information, human components, and technology into useful management tools can help managers create effective strategies for managing freshwater inflows and protecting estuarine habitats.