The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has produced a new report, entitled "A review of freshwater models used to support the regulation and management of water in New Zealand". AgResearch senior scientist Richard Muirhead gave his reaction, as follows: 

"The PCE’s review of freshwater models(external link) makes some important points about barriers that we collectively need to overcome to better manage and ultimately improve our water quality in New Zealand.

The review highlights the important role of environmental models for informing decision making through the complexity that inevitably comes with issues of freshwater management.

It articulates some of the challenges facing the regional councils, which are charged with implementing freshwater management policy, and identifies several barriers preventing them from having access to and using the best models. The review also points out that these structural and funding barriers are preventing NZ from a achieving a coordinated development and deployment of modelling tools.  

Improvements to models to support the management of freshwater are needed to both attain the water quality New Zealanders desire and demonstrate to our trading partners that our production systems are being sustainably managed.

As an environmental modeller, it is important to point out that evaluation and improvement of our freshwater models will require more than water quality monitoring data. Freshwater models require inputs of contaminant losses from every type of land use (where that contamination comes from) and how it travels in those rivers.  

To improve our ability to model these processes we will need to collect soil, sediment and contaminant runoff data from multiple land uses and also conduct specific experiments to prove we are modelling in the right way.  However, we will only be able to improve water quality when we can demonstrably reduce the environmental impact of our activities in the landscape.  Therefore, these activities need to be appropriately represented in the models.  

There is an opportunity in forthcoming Government reforms of the science sector to make changes to the structure of our organisations and funding to remove some of the barriers identified in this report.  This will enable the science community to maximise its contribution to the coordinated development of freshwater models that are fit for purpose, as envisioned in this report."

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