Large river basins present significant challenges for water resource planning and management. They typically traverse a wide range of hydroclimatic regimes, are characterized by complex and variable hydrology, and span multiple jurisdictions with diverse water demands and values. They are often data-poor and in many developing economies are characterized by weak water governance. Rapid global change is seeing significant changes to the pressures on the water resources of large basins, exacerbating the challenge of sustainable water management. Diverse technologies have long supported water resource planning and development, from data collection, analytics, simulation, to decision-making, and real-time operations. In the last two decades however, a rapid increase in the range, capability, and accessibility of new technologies, coupled with large reductions in cost, mean there are increasing opportunities for emerging technologies to significantly “disrupt” traditional approaches to water resources management. In this paper, we consider the application of ‘disruptive technologies’ in water resources management in large river basins, through a lens of improving water security. We discuss the role of different actors and institutions for water management considering a range of emerging disruptive technologies. We consider the risks and benefits associated with the use of these technologies and discuss the barriers to their widespread adoption. We obverse a positive trend away from the reliance solely on centralized government institutions and traditional modeling for the collection and analysis of data, towards a more open and dynamic ‘data and knowledge ecosystem’ that draws upon data services at different levels (global to local) to support water planning and operations. We expect that technological advances and cost reductions will accelerate, fueling increased incremental adoption of new technologies in water resources planning and management. Large-basin analytics could become virtually free for users with global, regional, and national development agencies absorbing the costs of development and any subscription services for end users (e.g., irrigators) to help improve water management at user level and improve economic productivity. Collectively, these changes can help to ‘democratize’ water management through improved access to data and information. However, disruptive technologies can also be deployed in top-down or centralized processes, and so their use is sometimes contested or misunderstood. Increased attention therefore needs to be given to ensuring equity in technology access, and to strengthening the governance context for technology deployment. Widespread adoption of disruptive technologies will require adjustments to how water professionals are trained, increased adaptiveness in water resources planning and operations, and careful consideration of privacy and cybersecurity issues.
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