Freshwater management in NZ: Whose problem is it anyway?

5 April 2018

Troy Baisden

If a problem well-defined is half-solved, then New Zealand might still have a way to go towards solving its freshwater management problem. But the news isn’t all bad, according to University of Waikato Professor Troy Baisden, whose Inaugural Professorial Lecture is on 17 April.

Professor Baisden is the new Bay of Plenty Regional Council Chair in Lakes and Freshwater Science, a position established in 2002 and funded by the Regional Council. His role is to lead science projects and provide support and advice to the Rotorua Te Arawa Lakes Programme, a partnership with Rotorua Lakes Council, Te Arawa Lakes Trust and the Regional Council, with funding from Ministry for the Environment, for the management of the 12 lakes in the catchment areas.

It’s a big job, but Professor Baisden is up to the task. His career has closely tracked the efforts of environmental science to address big issues. “My first project looked at acid rain, just as government and industry agreed on solutions to this issue in North America and Europe, and a global treaty tackled ozone depletion. Those successes provide a model we can apply to climate change and water quality, but today’s issues are harder because solutions need commitment from communities rather than just a few big companies.”

At his Inaugural Professorial Lecture, Professor Baisden will take examples from his career, which has shifted from soils to water, and explain why universities have an increasing role to play in big issues such as climate change and water quality. He’ll make a case that we can identify principles for fixing freshwater decline which are simple enough to bring solutions into view.

Professor Baisden says water is something we can all relate to. “We need to understand the principles of freshwater nutrient management, and what role science plays.”

As an example, he highlights that we don’t have clear principles for who owns water issues in New Zealand. “In this case, it’s not about who owns the water, but who owns the nutrients that are causing the problems downstream from their source. Until this principle is solved, it is hard to know who funds the solution, or exactly what science is needed to get there.”

“Identifying principles and testing them to tackle big problems is something universities can do by working across traditional lines of expertise. Within our small country, New Zealanders often excel at coming together on important issues.”

With the successful 15-year history of the Chair position, and support of the council behind him, Professor Baisden says that the best part of his job so far has been working with people in Rotorua and across the wider region. “A big part of my role is about building relationships and understanding the decisions people make that need the best possible advice or new science.”

Professor Baisden is particularly excited about the relationship he sees developing with the Te Arawa Lakes Trust, the iwi body now holding statutory responsibility for lake beds and taonga species. “As the custodians of our lakes and rivers, Māori have a special role to play. Treaty settlements have recognised this role as mana whenua and kaitiaki. In the Rotorua Te Arawa lakes, there’s a unique opportunity to build capacity toward iwi-led environmental leadership that supports aspirations of the entire community,” he says.

“The science behind the management of the Lake Rotorua should be highlighted more often as a national and international success. I look forward to promoting that, at the same time we develop new science and push success into other lakes and freshwater ecosystems,” he says. “I also want to help people understand how the way we solved the last big environmental problem can be applied to address the next one.”

Inaugural Professorial Lectures at the University of Waikato introduce new professors to the community and gives them a chance to demonstrate how their work is having a real impact on the world around us.They are free and open to the public.

Professor Troy Baisden’s Inaugural Professorial Lecture Finding Solutions for our Freshwater is on Tuesday 17 April at 5.15pm in the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts at the University of Waikato, Gates 1 and 2b, Knighton Road, Hamilton. A cash bar is open from 4.30pm. Parking is free after 4.30pm.

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