Sustainable water allocation

This programme is focussed on understanding the effects of human activity on rivers and groundwater systems to allow better predictions and inform more sustainable water allocation decisions that benefit ecosystems and communities. 

Dr Murray Hicks 


  • Relationships between river flows, variability and environmental attributes and values for water allocation decisions are investigated.
  • Understanding how different river flows maintain the in-stream physical environment and ecosystems.
  • Developing improved, more accurate and holistic methods for setting minimum flows for biota (e.g. sports fish).
  • Producing tools that assess effects on in-stream biota and reliability of water-supply of complex resource development across catchments and regions.  These address  the cumulative effects of multiple water uses, flow rules, water storage and climate change on waterways and take reliabilty, and alternative scenarios to assess large scale water management options.
  • Determining flow-dependent Maori cultural values in waterways and assisting iwi participation in water management.
  • Methods to maintain physical habitat quality in managed rivers, including flushing of nuisance algae are developed.

Research Projects

  • Modelling vegetation-impacted morphodynamics in braided rivers
  • Linking hydrology and ecology in macrophyte dominated streams in Canterbury
  • Cumulative Hydrological Effects Simulator (CHES)
  • More reliably defining the mid-range flows required to flush periphyton blooms
  • Flow requirements to sustain groundwater ecosystems.
  • Predicting groundwater discharge into spring-fed streams.
  • Linking cultural flow-requirements with science-based environmental flow assessment methods.
  • A tool for assessing the broad-scale effects of water allocation schemes on in-stream habitat and reliability of water supply.
  • Physically-based models for predicting ecological effects of river flow-regime change.
  • The influence of flow regime on fish communities in foothills-fed rivers and streams.

Key science collaborators

  • Cawthron Institute. Flow related habitat requirements for fish and developing in-stream habitat models with improved biological realism.
  • Tipa & Associates. Developing mechanisms for proactive consideration of tangata whenua values in water allocation processes.
  • University of Canterbury. Significance of full flow regime to native fish in high-country braided streams.
  • ESR. Effects of biofilms on groundwater flows and quality.
  • Department of Conservation.
  • Deltares, Netherlands
  • University of Wales, Aberyswyth

Recent publications

See a list of our recent related publications

Our goal is for Irrimet to enhance irrigation and effluent-spraying decisions based on real-time conditions. [Credit: Ross Woods]