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Rethinking Freshwater 
Management in Aotearoa New Zealand

Decolonising river restoration and governance

Freshwater is essential to the human health and wellbeing, and that of countless other life forms. Many areas of the globe, however, are faced with a growing imbalance between freshwater supply and demand as well as declining water quality. Described by many commentators as a water crisis, the ability to access freshwater both now and in the future is considered to be one of the most pervasive social, political, and ecological issues facing societies in the twenty-first century.

This project addresses the freshwater crisis through a human geography study of one freshwater system (the Waipa River) in Aotearoa New Zealand. This project seeks to explore how diverse knowledge systems and practices might inform effective freshwater management now and in the future. Up until comparatively recently conventional scientific knowledge dominated thinking about freshwater and its management at the expense of alternative knowledges. While there is now recognition of the need to incorporate different forms of knowledge (including Indigenous and local) the majority of management plans and restoration projects remain centred on scientific knowledge.


Indigenous knowledge (including traditional ecological knowledge) is now recognised as being critical to the development of effective and meaningful strategies to address social-ecological crises. The imperative of transforming freshwater management requires a broader appreciation of the diversity of communities, knowledges, and future planning needs. Accordingly new, innovative, transdisciplinary approaches that move beyond the reliance on conventional scientific knowledge (and associated worldviews) as the sole basis for thinking about freshwater management and restoration is needed. By exploring freshwater systems from a transdisciplinary perspective that incorporates different knowledges, histories, narratives, and goals, this research responses to calls by scholars to think creatively about environmental crises and imagine hopeful freshwater futures.

The project is lead by Dr Meg Parsons and Dr Karen Fisher, and funded through the Marsden Research Fund, Royal Society of New Zealand. 

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