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Greater Urgency Needed to Improve NZ Water Quality Monitoring

New Zealand waterways face significant challenges with current water quality monitoring systems not able to show tangible improvements for another two decades. 

A recent study funded by the Our Land and Water National Science Challenge and conducted by a collaboration of institutions (AgResearch, Lincoln University, Griffith University, Headwaters Hydrology, Traverse Environmental), sheds light on the pressing need for a substantial investment in water quality monitoring to ensure timely and effective results.

The research reveals that the existing rates of freshwater sampling will take a staggering 20 years to accurately capture changes in water quality parameters such as clarity, dissolved reactive phosphorus, and E. coli.

NZ river - tubidity monitoring

The study concludes that the current national monitoring regime falls short in providing an accurate reflection of contaminant concentrations due to insufficient sampling frequency. Monthly monitoring, for example, may coincide with periods of above or below average rainfall, distorting the average contaminant concentrations recorded.

The inability to detect rapid improvements in water quality also hinders the connection between on-farm actions and overall improvements. Professor Rich McDowell, chief scientist at Our Land and Water, emphasizes that our monitoring network limits the ability to link actions taken by communities, farmers, iwi, and councils to the actual improvements in water quality.

A Path Forward: Focused Monitoring and Emerging Technologies

In order to detect changes in nutrients and clarity within 20 years for over 95% of monitored sites, sampling needs to occur twice as frequently. However, to detect changes in E. coli within the same timeframe, sampling needs to double, increasing the annual cost of sampling significantly. To address the financial challenge, the research proposes a focus on a mix of sites that experience rapid changes in water quality and those representative of long-term land use.

AquaWatch - real-time water quality monitoring

The technologies created by AquaWatch enable real-time monitoring of water quality parameters—dissolved oxygen (DO), pH, conductivity, temperature, and turbidity (NTU)—in onsite wastewater treatment systems (OWTS).

Continuous monitoring of these parameters can provide the ability to use machine learning based soft sensors and enables accurate predictions of key water quality indicators like COD, TSS, and E. coli concentrations, offering significant benefits over traditional methods. This approach allows cost effective, scalable, and proactive management of land use and water quality.

Urgent Action Needed

Current policy, aiming to demonstrate improvements in freshwater quality within five years and achieve healthy waterways within two decades, is hampered by inadequate funding for monitoring. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Simon Upton, recently emphasized the risks associated with the lack of stable funding in a public letter to Judith Collins, Minister for Science, Innovation, and Technology.

To bridge the gap, the research suggests that funding for monitoring must increase substantially, potentially by five-fold, or existing funds must be reallocated to enable more frequent monitoring, even if it means monitoring fewer sites.

Empowering Stakeholders: Real-time Monitoring Tools for Action

New Zealand must make a significant investment in water quality monitoring to accelerate the detection of improvements in our waterways. By doing so, we can better align with policy goals, empower local communities, and ensure a sustainable and prosperous future for our precious water resources.

The AquaWatch AI Camera and Waka, enable real-time, comprehensive monitoring of our waterways, and alongside the amalgamation of mass data and insights our tools enable the responsive, proactive water management that we most urgently need to restore the quality of our waterways.

AquaWatch AI Camera



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