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Funding helps guarantee future pure water & air

Funding helps guarantee pure water and air for the future

When New Zealanders turn on their kitchen tap they have a high expectation of the quality of the water that comes out and when they walk through the countryside they expect air free of chemicals.

The Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, which invests in research, science and technology on behalf of the Government, has allocated $14.7m over the next six years to three innovative research projects that will help ensure our water and air quality remains high.

Two of the projects will help protect the nation’s groundwater resources and ensure that supplies of clean water for drinking and for irrigating our land will be there for future generations. The third will provide protection for our air, land and water resources from the unwanted effects of agrichemical sprays.

The Foundation was particularly impressed by the degree of partnership and collaboration achieved between the scientists, industry and end-users in these three new research programmes.

The projects will be led by Lincoln Ventures Ltd, a subsidiary company of Lincoln University, and will include collaboration with the National Institute for Water and Atmosphere, NZ Crop and Food Research Ltd and Forest Research Ltd.

Lincoln Ventures Chief Executive Officer, Dr Peter John, says the funding for the research is timely.

“The public is understandably demanding that water resources are managed sustainably, while agrichemical sprays continue to be a major health and environmental concern, especially for rural folk. These are important projects and the Foundation funding will certainly move New Zealand to the forefront of these vital areas of sustainable resource management.

“More importantly, the funding could be what makes the difference between success and failure in terms of effective management of water and agrichemical sprays,” says Dr John.

The largest programme, which will receive $8.5 million over six years, will develop techniques for helping regional councils and the agricultural sector to manage land-use growth and change without polluting the groundwater. The focus will be on non-point-source groundwater pollutants, such as nitrates.

Environmental Research Manager at Lincoln Ventures, Dr John Bright, says these pollutants are implicated in deteriorating water quality in intensively farmed catchments.

“As such they threaten New Zealand’s ability to meet requirements for sustainable production, our international environmental image, and the provision of drinking water from aquifers that are secure from contamination,” he says.

Dr Bright also said the financial cost of degradation in NZ’s environmental image in its top five tourist markets is estimated to be of the order of $900 million per year.

“If European Union nitrate standards for groundwater were imposed on New Zealand it is estimated that losses of $3.1 billion per year in farm-gate income, 70,000 jobs, and 5,000 family farm businesses would be incurred, “ said Dr Bright.

The research will deliver groundwater management tools that help ensure such losses are avoided. They will allow the cumulative effects of large-scale land-use change on groundwater quality to be quantified, determine the security of water supply bores and help establish the sustainable “boundaries” of land-use change over aquifers.

The second project, in partnership with the National Institute for Water and Atmosphere, focuses on groundwater allocation. The project, which will receive $3.5 million over six years, covers a crucial strategic issue for New Zealand as most irrigation development in the medium term future will use groundwater.

Dr Bright explains: “Currently, there is a shortage of skilled people and technical, policy and decision-making tools to help determine how much groundwater can be pumped on a sustainable basis, and how best to allocate that water among competing users.

“A successful outcome to our work will markedly reduce the risks to environmental, cultural and recreational values, and the risk of sub-optimal economic outcomes for individuals, regions and the country. In essence, this project is designed to achieve the breakthroughs necessary to ensure the socio-economic benefits of water use are maximised”.

The third project, a joint venture with Crop and Food Research Limited and Forest Research Limited, will produce a biomarker technology, essentially a chemical ‘barcode’, capable of identifying the sources and pathways of individual agrichemical applications.

The $2.5 million project, funded for four years, will also provide the ability to trace contaminants from multiple sources through the water, soil and air environments. A set of prediction and management tools will be produced capable of forecasting the fate of agrichemicals after their application.

Lincoln Ventures Research Programme Leader, Dr John-Paul Praat, say the use of these technologies by government, regional councils, industry bodies and growers will result in New Zealand “leading world best practice in the sustainable management of agrichemicals”.

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