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Using Data to Give Our Rivers a Voice


Christchurch-based freshwater initiative Drinkable Rivers is highlighting challenges in Aotearoa New Zealand’s waterways with real-time data.

Drinkable Rivers’ vision is for 100% Drinkable Rivers in Aotearoa New Zealand, starting with a flourishing Avon River/Ōtākaro in 7 year’s time. The pathway to this aspirational goal, they believe, is through a combination of transparent information-sharing and ongoing community engagement.

In July of 2019, the group sited the first of its data sensors in the headwaters of the Avon River/ Ōtākaro within Corfe Reserve. Dubbed ‘Oracle 1’, the prototype device has since been taking hourly measurements of known contaminants and key health indicators including: temperature, pH, nitrates, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, and oxidation reduction potential.

With the help of an internship programme at University of Canterbury, the group has implemented a basic data display on its website, drinkablerivers.nz, that they refer to as v1.0, but the group has big aspirations for the future of their real-time data.

Says project co-founder, Claire Newman, “We intend for successive sensors to be installed along the length of the Avon River/Ōtākaro, in other rivers, and, indeed, nationally. Within five years we could have over 100 sensors on rivers throughout Aotearoa, providing real-time data to show current and trend data on the quality of the waterways.”

A primary motivation for leading the Drinkable Rivers project through water-quality data is to enable that information to drive conversations: informing, inspiring, and engaging local citizens, businesses, and, ultimately, government.

Drinkable Rivers Project Manager Bex De Prospo says “We’re having some incredible discussions with water scientists and developers about how we can use the data that we’re capturing in conjunction with other available data to really begin to put together a complete picture of what’s happening to and in our waterways. In doing this, we can begin to really give our rivers a voice. There is a complex and fascinating story to be told here and we now have to make it compelling, credible, and accessible for all users from curious public, to conscious business-owners, to policy-makers.”

Says founder, Michael Mayell, “the Avon River/Ōtākaro is both the essence of Christchurch and one of the most toxic urban rivers in New Zealand; our people cannot be healthy living in an unhealthy environment. We want Christchurch to be the epicentre of an ecosystem of change in the way we view, manage, and care for our rivers. By regenerating the toxic and unswimmable essence of Christchurch into a vibrant, living waterway, we can bring about a paradigm shift in the self-image of our city’s citizens.”

The Drinkable Rivers data dashboard and additional information about the initiative can be viewed at drinkablerivers.nz.


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