Working with water

6 December 2015

Bruce Clarkson

Speaking to the nation's hydrologists, Professor Bruce Clarkson called for multidisciplinary approaches to solve water issues.

Hydrologists from all over New Zealand were totally immersed in their watery subject at a four-day national conference at the University of Waikato.

They discussed aspects of climate change on water, water quality, water management and distribution, flood management, hazard protection, catchments and contaminants.

Waikato University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research Professor Bruce Clarkson spoke at one of the plenary sessions reflecting on where hydrology fits in the “research ecosystem”, from national to local scales.

The government spends more than a billion dollars a year on science and innovation research and Professor Clarkson talked about how it’s allocated and the need for a balanced approached which recognises the importance of the spectrum of research approaches from investigator-led to mission- led and industry-focussed research.  He then talked about the National Science Challenges using the one he helped set up – the Biological Heritage Challenge – as an example to illustrate how challenges were progressing and how they were expected to contribute to solving wicked problems such as biodiversity decline.

The importance of multidisciplinary approaches and collaborations was emphasised as critical for the challenges to succeed, and he also pointed out how hydrology could be a part of a cross-ecosystem, cross-sector approach.

Professor Clarkson also outlined the work of the Lake Ecosystem Restoration team, led by Professor David Hamilton at the University of Waikato, and run over the last decade mostly in the Rotorua lakes. Outcome-oriented research has provided integrated technologies to enhance water quality by reducing the effects of harmful algal blooms and pest fish such koi carp.

Zeroing in on attempts to return indigenous nature to Hamilton, Professor Clarkson showed how the fundamentals of hydrology, topography and substrate constrain restoration efforts.

He detailed the formation of the Hamilton gullies by spring sapping and how best to restore them using knowledge of different plant species requirements in relation to water table, flooding regime and soil characteristics.

Restoring swamp forests of kahikatea and swamp maire were highlighted because of their historical significance regionally and locally. Lessons learned with the Gully Restoration Programme have now been applied to the Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park project which seeks to reconstruct the former ecosystem diversity of the Hamilton Basin within the 60 hectare site near Hamilton Zoo.

Now as gullies are being restored, and Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park is being replanted and intensive pest control is being undertaken by the Hamilton Halo project, tui have fully returned to the city.

Professor Clarkson says that further progress can be made by taking a whole of system approach and hydrology will continue to be an important consideration.