SciBlogs

Posts Tagged Water resource management

The role of science and science communication in setting environmental limits Waiology Mar 11

5 Comments

By Ned Norton and Helen Rouse

WaterGovernanceWaiology2013In water resource management under the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPS) (2011), limit setting refers to the process of defining the amount of the resource that is available for use (in terms of both quantity and quality) while still meeting defined freshwater environment outcomes. A collaborative approach to setting limits for managing water resources has been promulgated in the Land and Water Forum reports and is being attempted in some parts of the country, including in Canterbury where the collaborative approach is also a feature of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy.

The collaborative approach to limit setting requires that scientists provide information on the future consequences of limit options for environmental, cultural, social and economic values, so that informed community debate can occur and decisions on limits can be made. While current knowledge allows many consequences of resource use to be readily predicted, most scientists would share the view that research in this area needs strengthening to better predict all the effects of water takes and point and diffuse discharges. However the NPS requires that freshwater objectives and associated limits be set in regional plans in a timely manner, despite uncertain knowledge, recognising that advancing knowledge will lead to refinement of limits in future.

In this context, predicting some of the consequences of limit options can be an uncomfortable role for scientists for the following reasons:

  • Scientists are trained, for good reason, to be inherently conservative about drawing conclusions in haste and in the face of uncertainty;
  • In some places there are serious consequences of limit setting decisions for multiple, sometimes conflicting, values (e.g. environmental, economic, social, cultural);
  • Scientists in collaborative processes come face to face with the communities affected – people with livelihoods as well as social and cultural values at risk;
  • Scientists are required to stay objective in the face of sometimes emotional discussions.

The discomfort for scientists increases significantly where there is intense demand for resource use and limit options have serious consequences for conflicting values. Nonetheless, science is critical for well informed decisions. The challenge therefore is to communicate complex science information, including uncertainties, credibly and accessibly for a wide community audience.

Our observations from experience to date suggest that the following elements are required for the evolving role of scientists in collaborative limit setting processes today. Scientists must:

  1. Recognise the ‘expert witness’ science role
  2. Inform (but not attempt to make) decisions
  3. Walk in the communities’ shoes to develop perspective beyond the technical
  4. Use crisp visual communication tools to translate science for the community
  5. Simplify technical material to tell a story that makes sense for decision-making
  6. Communicate uncertainty and ways to manage it
  7. Do all of this while presenting good science and retaining credibility.

Further detail can be seen in our presentation to the Freshwater Sciences Society Conference, December 2012. We are actively working to improve the effectiveness of freshwater science at the science-policy interface in our research under the Management of Cumulative Effects of Stressors on Aquatic Ecosystems Programme, funded by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment.


Ned Norton is a water resource management consultant working part time for NIWA and part time assisting Environment Canterbury with collaborative limit setting processes. Dr Helen Rouse is a resource management consultant and group manager of the Freshwater Ecology group at NIWA Christchurch.

Personal reflections on the Land and Water Forum Waiology Mar 04

1 Comment

By Hugh Canard

WaterGovernanceWaiology2013I was asked to contribute to Waiology’s series on water governance, and after a very brief struggle with my inertial guidance system, I thought my contribution should be from the inside of the governance tent looking out. I have been variously engaged in the early stages of the development through to the implementation phases of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy, and I have been a member of the small group of the Land & Water Forum. I was selected as a representative of water-based recreation, not for any real or perceived level of expertise in science or engineering.

The Land & Water Forum was a bottom-up response to a rapidly deteriorating state of many of New Zealand’s waterways and failed attempts to address the wider legislative issues. Agricultural intensification and a widespread perception of abundance of water failed to deal with the creeping decline of water quality in many catchments. The stakeholders collectively approached a receptive environment minister to fund the forum in a collaborative process to produce a series of reports.

The result was three reports full of recommendations, some unexceptional common sense, and others more challenging, requiring a paradigm shift from adversarial to collaborative processes to manage water. The government took a bold step in supporting a process with no specified outcome, and the response to the reports has been largely positive. What worked? What were the key features that enabled this process to deliver? I think – entirely from my perspective – three things.

1. Social organisation and kaupapa. Peer-to-peer selection occurred at a level of authority that left little wriggle room for backing away from commitments made around the table. We had CEOs and their equivalents. Having all competing user groups, iwi, eNGOs around the table made for an uncomfortable time during the early sessions and towards the report deadlines, but without a consensus across the full spectrum, the reports would have lacked force and would been diluted by political risk.

2. Resources. The government funded the process in part, with the participants contributing substantially in-kind. With senior representation in attendance the stakeholder contribution was significant enough to command attention from both the participants and the wider government. The chair was a critical choice. We needed both a facilitator and a guide through the labyrinth of government.

3. A common and elevated level of understanding. This is where the role of science came into play, so I’ll become more expansive. Each stakeholder came with their own personal knowledge. Some with detailed RMA knowledge, some with ecological, economic, operational or agricultural backgrounds. Each had a corporate agenda and a personal value set in varying proportions. Iwi had a multi-layered set of values that in many respects mirrored the national scene of competing interests. The early sessions included a briefing from each stakeholder which enabled the Forum members to understand where each of us were coming from, and a specialist science briefing from nationally recognised experts in all matters ‘water’. There was a notable two day session at which Clive Howard-Williams of NIWA assembled a range of scientists who addressed the Forum in a participatory process. There were legal, economic and policy sessions by experts as well. The end result was that all Forum members quickly began to appreciate the full spectrum of issues and be up to speed with the state of the art knowledge that exists in New Zealand. A notable exercise was when Fish & Game’s CEO gave a flawless representation of the dairy sector’s position on water, followed by an equally flawless presentation of the environmental NGOs’ views values and position by the Federated Farmers Dairy chair. Hard to imagine a year earlier.

The final report of the LWF contains many references to the role of science and understanding in aiding policy development and in the future management of water in New Zealand. Science informs, sheds light, and lifts the game. In turn policies inform future science direction in the service of the nation. That to me, at a professional and personal level, is one the major achievements that the collaborative process delivered.


Hugh Canard is an engineer, a kayaker, and the Group Manager, Environmental at Lincoln Agritech Ltd. His team addresses the issue of groundwater contamination.

Water governance in New Zealand: An introduction Waiology Mar 01

2 Comments

By Daniel Collins

WaterGovernanceWaiology2013

“Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.”

So goes the saying, often dubiously attributed to Mark Twain, when talking about water politics in the western US. And while New Zealanders are fortunate to have a much wetter climate (and tend to prefer beer or wine), we are no strangers to fights over water.

We see these tensions time and time again in the news. Fishing vs. irrigation in Canterbury. Greens vs. dams in Hawkes Bay. Residents vs. Auckland Council over rates. The Maori Council vs. the Government over ownership. As a nation, we have diverse and, at times, conflicting values when it comes to water.

To help resolve these tensions we turn to some form of governing body or another. Whether it is the central government, a regional or local government, or even small water user groups, they have been given the authority to make trade-offs on behalf of their constituents – to try to balance rival values. (The word ‘rival’ is in fact derived from the same root as ‘rivulet’ – rivals share the same river.)

This is an immensely difficult job, with many statutes, tools and institutions springing up over the years to help this along. The Resource Management Act (RMA), established in 1991, is the overarching statute for sustainable management of New Zealand’s natural and physical resources, which requires the social, cultural, economic and environmental values of society to be balanced. The 2011 National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPS-FM) provides further national instruction for water, while Water Conservation Orders (WCOs) offer a means to protect outstanding rivers within a region. But the engine rooms of water governance in NZ are the regional councils. Largely delineated along catchment boundaries, they set regional policies and plans, and most have mechanisms to seek community input and engagement.

Sitting outside these governmental structures has been the Land and Water Forum (LAWF). Concluding last year, it brought the many competing interests together for collaborative, closed-door discussions on water management. It sought consensus and through three publicly released reports it delivered a suite of recommendations to the government. Some from the first report have been adopted but we do not yet know which of the remaining will be taken up.

What is becoming strikingly obvious – with the LAWF process, with the Maori water ownership debate, and so on – is that water governance in New Zealand is becoming increasingly collaborative and integrative. Frameworks are fed from the top, values are fed from the bottom, science and economics inform from the side, and complex negotiations go on in the middle. For this to be a success, it is important to understand the various issues and developments in an open forum.

With this in mind, for the month of March (coinciding with World Water Day on the 22nd), Waiology is running a series of articles on water governance, drawn from water experts across New Zealand: central and local government, universities and research institutes, consultants, and stakeholders. And in keeping with Waiology’s primary focus, each contributor has been asked to give some attention to the role of science in the process.

So stay tuned and contribute to the discussions on water, governance and the role of science.


Update April 8, 2013: The final article in the series has now been published.


Dr Daniel Collins is a hydrologist and water resource scientist at NIWA.

Map: Projected effects of climate change on New Zealand freshwaters Waiology Nov 27

2 Comments

By Daniel Collins

Maps are helpful tools in communicating and understanding the potential implications of climate change. We have national maps of projected changes in temperature that show faster warming in the north, and in precipitation that show more rain in the south and west and less in the north and east. We also have national maps of projected changes in drought, that show much of the country is likely to experience more severe droughts.

Now, I am able to give you a map of the potential freshwater changes across New Zealand. This includes changes in snow, ice, river flow, groundwater, aquatic ecology, geomorphology, and water use/management.

This is an important step in synthesising and understanding climate change impacts, drawn from existing case studies across the country. Projections are pin-pointed on the map below; in some cases they are more national in scope (e.g., salinisation of coastal groundwater).

This illustrates quite a complex picture. Retreating snow and ice. More flow in Alps-fed rivers, less flow in others. Higher lake levels and lower lake levels. More water demand from both agriculture and city. Higher erosion as well as channel aggradation. Higher lake nutrient levels and more frequent algal blooms.

There is a lot we know but also a lot we don’t know. As yet, we cannot provide a complete national assessment for river flows, nor for groundwater recharge. And very little research has connected the dots between climate change and aquatic ecology. But as new studies are carried out this map will be expanded and the gaps filled in.

In the near future I will describe the projected changes in more detail, so stay tuned.


Dr Daniel Collins is a hydrologist and water resources scientist at NIWA.

Waiology moving from water cycle to freshwater sciences Waiology Nov 26

No Comments

By Daniel Collins

After over a year serving New Zealand as a source of information and discussion on hydrology and the water cycle, I am pleased to announce that Waiology is expanding its scope to freshwater sciences and allied disciplines more generally. This includes all things hydrological, as before, but also aquatic ecology and chemistry, fluvial geomorphology, hydraulic engineering, and related policy and management.

Waiology will continue to serve as a conduit among scientists, professionals and the public, and guest posts will continue to appear from time to time. The pool of contributions will now grow, and no doubt the relevance to both science and the country.

The reason for the evolution is simple. Research and management of freshwater is better if working across disciplinary boundaries. Our challenges are not about the quantity of water alone, nor quality or hazards, but many related issues that must be managed in unison. Hence a science blog that treats them in unison.

I look forward to continue serving you as editor of Waiology, and bringing many more minds to this forum.


Dr Daniel Collins is a hydrologist and water resources scientist at NIWA.

Water allocation and limit-setting in a changing climate Waiology Nov 20

1 Comment

By Daniel Collins

Last week, the Land and Water Forum released its third and final report on water management in New Zealand. It is a substantial piece of collaborative work with 67 recommendations. Number 29 is that allocation limits be set by taking into account “any flow and water level fluctuations caused by seasonal or other climate variations”. While this primarily refers to natural variability, such as the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation, it’s also important to consider climate change. And along the same lines, last year’s National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management stated the need to account for the “foreseeable impacts” of climate change.

This is an important issue, as climate change is expected to bring about a raft of changes to New Zealand’s freshwaters (more details on that soon). Among these changes are reductions or increases in the amount of water available for use. Also importantly, climate change makes assessments of future water resources less certain.

So how should resource managers set allocation limits for long-term consents in the context of climate change, accounting for both a change in supply and an increase in uncertainty?

To explore this issue, I propose the following method. It is still in its formative stages, so feedback is welcome.

Let’s start by considering a hypothetical New Zealand river. Its allocation limit is currently set at 40 m3/s. And let’s put aside any complications like priority rights.

Now suppose that results from a climate change impact assessment indicate that allocable flow will reduce by 7% by 2050. This is a middle-of-the road projection, associated with a moderate greenhouse gas emissions scenario and using the median result from 12 global climate models (GCMs). But if you account for the uncertainty of the scenarios, the GCMs and the hydrological models that convert climate changes into runoff changes, then the impact could be anywhere between a 4% and a 12% reduction. That is, it is almost certain that the allocable flow will drop by 4%, it will likely drop by a further 3%, and it might drop by another 5% again.

To set a conservative new allocation limit, first reduce the existing limit by 12% to 35.2 m3/s You can be pretty sure that this water will still be available in 2050 and so you should have no qualms about allocating it for the longest possible duration under the RMA of 35 years (2012 + 35 = 2047). This gives water users the confidence to invest in long-term infrastructure, and it will mean that over-allocation is unlikely to occur.

Second, take an additional 5% of the water (2 m3/s) and allocate this for a shorter period of time, say 10-15 years. It is likely that this water will also be available in the future, but we can’t be as sure. For those water users who are willing to accept the higher risk, they should be allowed to, thus making better use of the available resource.

(If the climate change projections were for an increase in water availability, the same method applies, but the numbers are shifted in the opposite direction.)

Every few decades or so, the long-term allocation limit is re-assessed and changed as needed. Every 10-15 years or so, the short-term allocation limit is also re-assessed and changed as needed.

This allocation scheme meets users’ needs for long-term consents for most of the water (the “certain” water), giving them the confidence to invest in long-term infrastructure, while also allowing them to seek additional water if they are not too risk averse. The scheme also allows the limits to be managed adaptively as new information comes to light – new data on water availability or better climate change projections. And finally, it means that the social, cultural and environmental limits are met whatever happens with climate change, and that the detrimental effects of over-allocation are avoided.

In terms of climate change adaptation, the scheme ticks the boxes of adaptive management and balanced risk-based assessment, and is robust to uncertainties in climate change. As far as I can tell, it also meets the different stakeholders’ needs while accounting for the realities of climate change (that is, change plus uncertainty).

But what do you think? Your feedback would be appreciated in refining this time-dependent allocation scheme.

Network-wide options by YD - Freelance Wordpress Developer