Directions for future research

Two important documents released by the New Zealand Government in November 2013 are likely to influence freshwater research in the next few years. These documents are the report from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Water Quality in New Zealand: Land use and nutrient pollution and the proposed Amendments to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management.

Water Quality in New Zealand: Land use and nutrient pollution (PDF 4.7 MB) Proposed amendments to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 

The Parliamentary Commissioner's report is a wake-up call regarding potential negative effects on water quality at a national scale if land use intensification, spearheaded by land use for dairy, continues to progress as it has in the last few years. The Commissioner points out that the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management, requires the overall quality of freshwater in all regions be maintained or improved. The commissioner does not believe this is achievable unless decision makers more actively address the link between land use change and water quality. Research will play a vital part in this. 

Key areas we are addressing, with our collaborators Landcare Research and AgResearch are:

  • Mitigation of nutrient loss from farms to freshwater by changing on-farm practices. Such as advanced irrigation techniques combined with precision farming, advanced weather and environmental forecasting.
  • Changing grazing patterns and defining those areas most sensitive to contaminant loss. In some areas 10% of the land contributes to 80% of the contaminant loss to water. These need definition and process-oriented research to optimise contaminant retention pathways.
  • Researching the efficacy of riparian strips, wetland and constructed wetlands in various forms for nutrient, pathogens (E. coli) and sediment control. See our constructed wetland treatment guidelines. And improved wastewater treatment from farm-scale operations (eg dairy shed, piggery effluent treatments. See our Waste water treatment – advanced pond systems.
  • Modelling of land use change needs to relate to downstream impacts. The NIWA CLUES (Catchment landuse for environmental sustainability) model, see CLUES, will continue to be important. Catchment modelling for water quality is a key research area for NIWA.

Constructed wetland treatment guidelines Waste water treatment – advanced pond systems CLUES

The amendments to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management include a new concept, that of the National Objectives Framework (NOF). This concept was first introduced by the Land and Water Forum and accepted in principle by the Government.

National Objectives Framework (NOF) 

The draft NOF is now available for public comment and if it proceeds, will provide a significant platform for research activity. For instance, are there techniques available for continuous measurement of dissolved oxygen that can be cost-effectively deployed? Is it possible to classify sediments to allow for a national objective on sediment levels in streams? What are the characteristics of wetlands and estuaries, not currently included in the NOF attributes, that are amenable to inclusion in the NOF. How important are groundwater ecosystems? What are critical flow criteria that should be considered in objectives for managing ecosystem health that would be practical to introduce as national objectives?

We see the policy-driven directions for water management will be pivotal in formulating research questions and NIWA is engaged in this process in many ways. Future contributions to this website and Update will outline these as they are promoted. These are interesting and rapidly changing times.

The following three articles in this update outline work we are undertaking for NOF:

River Footprint. Photo: Dave Allen