Our Land and Water National Science Challenge

Jenny Webster-Brown is the current Director of the Our Land and Water National Science Challenge. Her career as a water quality scientist spans nearly 40 years, and encompasses research, teaching and consultancy, focussing on the impacts of land use and mineral/energy extraction on our natural freshwater systems. She is a graduate of Otago University and the University of Western Australia, and began her career with DSIR Chemistry Division in Wellington in 1981, moving with her environmental chemistry colleagues into ESR when the CRIs were formed in 1992. She lectured in water quality, geochemistry and environmental science at the University of Auckland for 13 yrs, before moving to Canterbury in January 2010 to take up the position of Professor of Water Resource Management at the University of Canterbury, and set up the Waterways Centre for Freshwater Management; a teaching and research centre created by the University of Canterbury and Lincoln University to help improve freshwater resource management in New Zealand. She commenced her role with OLW National Science Challenge in May 2020. Based on her experience across the science and research sectors in this country, she sees a critical role for collaborative, interdisciplinary and biculturally-empathetic science, and effective communication and uptake of research findings, in the sustainable management of freshwater resources in Aotearoa.

Storms to Come: Can science provide a better umbrella than it has in the past?

Wed 2 Dec | 8:30 - 9:15 AM

Even the briefest overview of the man-made “storms” that have assailed our water environment in the past shows that science, even great science, has too often failed to help us avoid, remedy or mitigate their effects. The legacies of these storms are with us still; biodiversity loss, freshwater diversion and depletion, nitrate contamination, faecal contamination, urban stream syndrome, fine sediment deposition … to name but a few of the impacts that we study and (largely) understand, but continue to live with. Common obstacles to the implementation of science-based solutions are also relatively well known; socio-economic drivers, population growth, escalating expectations of our natural resources, traditional practises and various aspects of basic human behaviour… again to name just a few. It seems that there is a counterproductive disconnection between understanding the issue and using this knowledge to solve the problem.

Surveys of recent university science students and graduates reveal their enthusiasm to create a difference in the world, by tackling some of the environmental issues that previous generations have not only found impossible to solve, but have very often exacerbated. We must change those aspects of the traditionally accepted science “system” that actively hinder science’s contribution to society and environment, if we are to help these future scientists contribute more constructively to the protection of our natural resources.