A new five-year research programme is aiming to help regional councils manage their water resources and meet the Government’s freshwater quality standards by 2025.
Lincoln Agritech Ltd has been awarded almost $8m in New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) funding for the research programme, which will provide the first accurate information about how much water is lost from braided rivers into groundwater.
“Braided rivers are unusual worldwide, but very important in New Zealand because of their provision of natural habitat, sources of agricultural and drinking water, and their recreational use,” said Programme Lead Scott Wilson, Lincoln Agritech Hydrogeologist.
“Regional councils currently set water limits and identify management plans for braided rivers without knowing how much water is lost as rivers traverse their alluvial plans. The impact on groundwater recharge and river flow during dry periods is also unknown.”
The programme will deliver new knowledge regarding the Selwyn/Waikirikiri, Wairau and Ngaruroro rivers, along with models allowing councils to estimate water loss from any part of any braided river. It will also quantify the environmental and economic benefits of different river management strategies.
“Our research will help regional councils to enact policy with defensible freshwater quality and quantity standards to meet the Government’s National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management (NPS-FM) requirements by 2025,” he said. “It will also ensure that society’s competing needs for water can be met in the best way possible.
“Our new understanding will help manage the trade-off between environmental and economic benefits, ensuring that rivers can continue to have a role in agriculture, while providing high-quality drinking water, recreational activities and important native habitat.”
The multidisciplinary research team includes experts from Lincoln Agritech Ltd, as well as NIWA, Lincoln University and its Agribusiness and Economics Research Unit (AERU), University of Canterbury - Waterways Centre for Freshwater Management, Flinders University (Australia), Technische Universität Dresden (Germany) and Aarhus University (Denmark).
The team has the required range of skills in field data collection, hydrological modelling and cost benefit analysis to make this a major step forward in understanding New Zealand’s braided rivers.