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$9m to restore our rivers and lakes

$9m to restore our rivers and lakes

Research that will help restore New Zealand’s streams, rivers, lakes, and estuaries has received $9 million of funding over six years from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

Headed by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), the comprehensive programme aims to help restore aquatic resources that have become degraded from pollution and habitat modification.

“This research will help us solve the water quality problems that are now being faced by regional councils throughout New Zealand”, said programme leader, Dr John Quinn. It will be carried out in different environments in different parts of the country, but the results will help restore aquatic ecosystems throughout New Zealand, including the high profile lakes like Taupo, Rotorua, Omapere, and Horowhenua.

The programme includes a variety of projects around New Zealand, including research that seeks the views and knowledge of farmers, urban communities, and Maori to create restoration plans that are locally relevant and develop methods for the rehabilitation of aquatic systems. “We want to see the restoration of these environments so that they again provide the things we value –things like clean water, abundant and uncontaminated fish and shellfish, unique native species, and places for recreation.”

The emphasis will be on holistic approaches because successful restoration of degraded lakes, for example, typically has to include modification of the way we manage land, especially the margins of streams and lakes, human, and animal wastes, and the way we manage streams, to control contaminant loads and improve habitat. Lake restoration can be achieved only if catchment management is in place and if degraded streams feeding into lakes are first restored themselves.

“A lot of our water resources lie within private land so we’re working with farmers and iwi to understand what they want from the waterways and to develop innovative restoration plans that meets their needs and those of the wider community,” says Dr Quinn.

In Taupo and the Rotorua Lakes, the programme will improve the capacity for iwi to be involved in lake management by developing tools for them to monitor traditional food sources. We will also collaborate on the Lake Okaro restoration experiment with Environment Bay of Plenty and Waikato University. Research on nutrient removal in streamside (riparian) buffers will contribute significantly to lake management and restoration plans.

Research to reverse the influences of hill-country farming systems on streams is already underway at Whatawhata Research Centre, Waikato, (see and this will be extended to a new project with Tauranga hapu to restore streams that drain into Tauranga Harbour. Meanwhile, the potential for reversingof the impacts of intensive dairying on lowland streams is being investigated at Toenepi, near Matamata.

Further south, the focus will be on restoring urban streams in Christchurch, and, in Otago, ways of reversing the degradation of coastal lakes will be examined with a view to extending these studies to the North Island in the longer term.

The NIWA interdisciplinary research team will collaborate with the Universities of Otago and Canterbury, Ngai Tahu, Ngâti Tûwharetoa, NZ Landcare Trust, and three Tauranga hapu. Some aspects of the new programme are aligned with other research that NIWA is involved in, led by AgResearch, Landcare Research, Forest Research and Hort Research.

Dr Quinn says: “We’ve got an exciting time ahead of us now and we’re looking forward to getting into it. The fact that we’ve received funding for six years is fantastic. We really need that security to be able to develop relationships with those involved and to properly study and monitor progress and changes.”

“The programme is going to be a challenge. Restoring aquatic systems is not the same as reducing the negative impacts. Getting things back the way they were requires an understanding of the cumulative damage that has occurred and finding ways to work with nature to reverse this. Scientists have long known the likely pathways of degradation of waters by pollution. What we don’t know are the pathways and barriers to restoration. The Foundation’s funding of this programme will allow us to address these fundamental issues.”

The Aquatic Restoration project was funded as part of the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology’s sustainability investment round, which invests $57 million per annum.

The Foundation’s Group Manager of Investment Operations, Peter Benfell, says NIWA’s proposal responded “incredibly well” to what the Foundation requested from researchers in its Request for Proposals, especially the “development of technologies, tools and adaptive management strategies for managing restoring and rehabilitating ecosystems”.

“Aquatic ecosystems have significant intrinsic values and underpin our communities, industries and tourism. They also play an important role in our sense of national identity and New Zealand’s “clean-green” branding in the international marketing of our products,” says Peter.

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