Christchurch-based freshwater initiative Drinkable Rivers is highlighting challenges in Aotearoa New Zealand’s waterways
with real-time data.
Drinkable Rivers’ vision is for 100% Drinkable Rivers in Aotearoa New Zealand, starting with a flourishing Avon River/Ōtākaro in 7 year’s time. The pathway to this aspirational goal, they believe, is through a combination of transparent information-sharing and
ongoing community engagement.
In July of 2019, the group sited the first of its data sensors in the headwaters of the Avon River/ Ōtākaro within Corfe
Reserve. Dubbed ‘Oracle 1’, the prototype device has since been taking hourly measurements of known contaminants and key
health indicators including: temperature, pH, nitrates, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, and oxidation reduction
With the help of an internship programme at University of Canterbury, the group has implemented a basic data display on
its website, drinkablerivers.nz, that they refer to as v1.0, but the group has big aspirations for the future of their
Says project co-founder, Claire Newman, “We intend for successive sensors to be installed along the length of the Avon
River/Ōtākaro, in other rivers, and, indeed, nationally. Within five years we could have over 100 sensors on rivers
throughout Aotearoa, providing real-time data to show current and trend data on the quality of the waterways.”
A primary motivation for leading the Drinkable Rivers project through water-quality data is to enable that information
to drive conversations: informing, inspiring, and engaging local citizens, businesses, and, ultimately, government.
Drinkable Rivers Project Manager Bex De Prospo says “We’re having some incredible discussions with water scientists and
developers about how we can use the data that we’re capturing in conjunction with other available data to really begin
to put together a complete picture of what’s happening to and in our waterways. In doing this, we can begin to really
give our rivers a voice. There is a complex and fascinating story to be told here and we now have to make it compelling,
credible, and accessible for all users from curious public, to conscious business-owners, to policy-makers.”
Says founder, Michael Mayell, “the Avon River/Ōtākaro is both the essence of Christchurch and one of the most toxic
urban rivers in New Zealand; our people cannot be healthy living in an unhealthy environment. We want Christchurch to be
the epicentre of an ecosystem of change in the way we view, manage, and care for our rivers. By regenerating the toxic
and unswimmable essence of Christchurch into a vibrant, living waterway, we can bring about a paradigm shift in the
self-image of our city’s citizens.”
The Drinkable Rivers data dashboard and additional information about the initiative can be viewed at drinkablerivers.nz.