NIWA to focus research to fix Canterbury water woes

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The National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research’s (NIWA) scientific expertise is to be focused on improving the management of freshwater resources in Canterbury.

(From NIWA and Environment Canterbury)

The Crown Research Institute’s flagship project will link research on climate, hydrology, and river species biology to provide tangible advice on future water resource management for the Canterbury Plains region and help resolve some of the conflict between competing demands for water in the region.

More than $2 million will be invested in the project over the next three years.

NIWA General Manager Strategy Dr Bryce Cooper says the main aim of the new Climate and Water Resources Flagship programme is to better define the relationships between weather, climate and water resources to improve regional water management for the Canterbury Plains area.

While this proposal is clearly geographically centred on the catchments linked with the Canterbury Plains, he says, information generated is likely to be used in other East coast alluvial regions.

“NIWA has a bunch of skills that cover the climate, weather, hydrology, and biology. We’re putting that together in a way that’s useful for the regional council, and the country.”

Environment Canterbury Chief Executive Bryan Jenkins welcomes the new research programme. “NIWA’s flagship programme has been developed in consultation with our staff, and is closely aligned to our work.”

He says Canterbury is a region with significant competing water uses and that resulted in complex water use issues.

“We are looking forward to NIWA’s research and the outcomes from it.”

There are about 550,000 hectares of land in the Canterbury region consented for irrigation development – 70 per cent of all the irrigated land in New Zealand. Of that, 54 per cent is supplied from rivers, and 46 per cent from ground water. Another 400,000 hectares of land has irrigation potential, with a potential economic boost of $1.1 billion a year in output at the farmgate.

“Getting good, useable information is vital if we are to make the right decisions about any future use of precious water resources in our region.”

This work will rely on close communication between Environment Canterbury and NIWA and will involve close exchanges with other research providers in the Canterbury area such as Lincoln Ventures, Aqualinc Research and ESR.

There will be four NIWA projects in the three-year programme.

Flagship Project 1. Weather and Climate Predictions
This project will focus on forecasting short-term (2 –15 day forecasts) and seasonal (3-month) weather and climate conditions for the Canterbury plains area. The forecasting project will include using climate data records held by NIWA and Environment Canterbury to extend the climate archive for Canterbury; improved evapotranspiration measurements to feed into the groundwater models of Environment Canterbury, Lincoln Ventures and Aqualinc Research; and improved 3-month climate forecasting.

Flagship Project 2. Linking climate and water resources
This will develop modelling tools to predict variation in Canterbury water supplies, stream flows, and flood risks in response to variation in weather, climate, and surface water irrigation demand. The initial NIWA project will calibrate existing water resources and flood models using the 15-day forecasts from the Project 1 above. Contributions to groundwater recharge will require collaboration with Lincoln Ventures and Aqualinc Research.

Flagship Project 3. Ecological effects
Many of the concerns regarding water use and proposed water development on the Canterbury plains relate to negative effects on aquatic life, caused by changes in their habitat and in water quality. Field experiments and monitoring of fish and invertebrate stocks, habitat use, and migration will explain and measure those effects.

Flagship Project 4. Prediction-based adaptive management
NIWA will work with Environment Canterbury to develop an adaptive management system for surface water, using information from the other three projects and from existing and on-going research in other programmes.

For more information, contact:

Dr Bryce Cooper
NIWA General Manager Strategy
07 856 1779  or 027 4966903

Or

Geoff Baird
NIWA General Manager of Communications and Marketing
04 386 0543 or 027 229 6314

Click here for the Research, Science and Technology Minister's release.