Reimagining freshwater geographies at the School of Environment

16 November 2011


On October 28th thirty four academics and practitioners from around the country gathered in Auckland for a day of reframing and reimagining freshwater geographies. The postgraduate-led initiative built upon two earlier workshops held within the School of Environment in March and May, and the workshop had two primary themes.

First, we began by exploring and unpacking the multiplicity of ways in which we in the room have come to know (and live with) our freshwater systems, and we considered how these knowledges contribute to conventional framings of the freshwater ‘problem’. From this, we moved on to discuss how these ‘problems’ are related to (and sustained by) both institutional and personal practices, and that if we want to imagine and enact new practices, we need to imagine (and come to know) new worlds.

Second, we sought to think more broadly about the possibilities of of our practices across our personal, public and professional lives. Discussion highlighted the role that networks play in bridging and creating conversations across institutions, disciplines and worldviews. In thinking about how we resource ourselves to ‘do things differently’, it is crucially important to have networks of support, whether it be expertise, institutional capacity or experiential knowledge.

Participants brought energy and motivation to engage and develop new approaches to freshwater, with lively discussions and debates across the day. There was an enormous wealth and diversity of experience and knowledge in the room - from geomorphology and ecological modelling to social learning and virtual water, from postgraduate students and professors to council workers and Crown Research Institutes. Attendees included staff and students from the University of Otago, the University of Canterbury, Victoria University, Lincoln University, Massey University and the University of Auckland, and included practitioners from Landcare Research, Cawthron Institute, Auckland Council, Horizons Regional Council and NIWA as well as independent researchers.

We hope the enthusiasm from the day will carry through diverse sites of practices to generate new conversations in departmental common rooms, council chambers, homes and everywhere else that the creation of freshwater geographies takes place! One initiative being pursued is a ‘Freshwater Geographies’ session at the NZGS Conference in 2012 - we invite all interested to attend and contribute. In addition to a session of papers (or two if we can manage), we envision a group lunch and dinner, perhaps with informal presentations and a panel. As our own potential contributions, we the organizing team are currently in the process of writing a manuscript reflecting upon the lessons learned from running these workshops and another on how we are currently doing the practice of “knowing” New Zealand’s freshwater. Also, some participants are also in the process of putting freshwater issues to politicians during the run-up to the election.
Organizing postgraduates include Claire Gregory, Brendon Blue, Kiely McFarlane, Marc Tadaki and Petra van Limburg-Meijer

We would like to thank staff within the School of Environment who supported this initiative – Gary Brierley, Robin Kearns, Richard Le Heron, Nick Lewis and Sam Trowsdale. We would also like to thank the School of Environment (University of Auckland), the Auckland Branch of the New Zealand Geographical Society and the Contested Environments research theme (School of Environment, University of Auckland) for their support.

If you would like to suggest, contribute to or be kept informed about developments from this workshop, please email Marc Tadaki (


Workshop Followup

We recently sent an open letter to politicians on the state and management of New Zealand's freshwater, based on questions posed by participants during the workshop. The following document is a collation of National, Labour and the Green Party's responses to the questions and concerns raised in this letter