• Brett Painter Lincoln Ventures Ltd


integrated socio-ecological system, wicked problem, water allocation


This paper describes an example of integrated socio-ecological systems management that is underway in Central Canterbury, New Zealand. Canterbury is New Zealand’s largest region comprising approximately 17% of the country’s land area. The region currently accounts for approximately 60% of all water allocated for consumptive use in New Zealand and 70% of the nation’s irrigated land. The ‘wicked’ problem greeting researchers in 2004 was a community divided over the sustainable development of its water resources as these resources approached full allocation potential. The context for this situation is resource management legislation (the Resource Management Act 1991) with integrating intent but fragmented and under-resourced implementation until recently, which has inhibited integrated understanding of relevant social, economic, cultural and ecological systems before the pressures escalated in processes to allocate a resource deemed increasingly scarce and valuable. To add value to recent processes at multiple spatial extents led by the devolved resource management decision maker (the Canterbury Regional Council), a multi-disciplinary group of researchers and stakeholders of place, interest and regulation embarked on a collaborative approach to consider the challenges of sustainable water allocation in Central Canterbury. Significant progress has been made despite participation challenges for those also involved in the continuing adversarial processes and those requiring quick answers to complex questions. Collaboration has occurred via meetings of various scale and focus, written research reports, meeting reports, peer reviewed literature and a website. A key achievement to date has been the assimilation of a wide variety of knowledge and information for a catchment/watershed-focussed historical information project. One output from this process involves the combination of qualitative and quantitative knowledge on a key intermittent river in the catchment to identify river connection potential prior to the commencement of river flow recording. This extended river connection record was then analysed alongside multiple scales of natural and human drivers to address an information gap relating to the rise and dramatic decline of New Zealand’s greatest brown trout fishery. Trout are particularly relevant to water allocation due to a section of the resource management legislation that seeks to protect trout (and salmon) habitat in a sustainable balance between water abstraction and fishable/swimmable water bodies. The new hydrosystem information was then added to other relevant information and utilised in a system resilience assessment based on the Panarchy framework. This information is currently being structured in a way that enables analysis of interconnections with other relevant socio-ecological systems such as riparian zone functions, the opening regime of a large lake at the base of the catchment, and potential institutional arrangements for increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of currently allocated water. At the same time, all statutory agencies with responsibilities in the catchment are working with a community trust to poll the community on a choice between three potential futures for the lake and its catchment. A long term aim for these processes is the creation and implementation of an integrated catchment management plan which is significantly supported by regulatory agencies and the community. This would indeed be a wicked (in the best sense of the word) solution to a ‘wicked’ socio-ecological system problem.

Author Biography

Brett Painter, Lincoln Ventures Ltd

Senior Research Scientist, Lincoln Environmental Research, Lincoln Ventures Ltd. Particular interest in integrated socio-ecological systems research



How to Cite

Painter, B. (2009). SUSTAINABLE WATER ALLOCATION FOR FAMILIES, FISH AND FARMING: A WICKED PROBLEM OR A WICKED SOLUTION?. Proceedings of the 53rd Annual Meeting of the ISSS - 2009, Brisbane, Australia, 1(1). Retrieved from