Otago, New Zealand upgrades key water data with a new data management platform

Sept. 18, 2023
Despite the generally large water volumes present in the region, some parts of Otago are among the driest areas in New Zealand.

The Otago Regional Council has recently switched to a new environmental data portal, making it easier to access more than 250 water monitoring sites around New Zealand’s region of Otago, improving access to critical information for customer and compliance staff.

Otago is New Zealand’s third largest region with a diverse landscape and many water resources including alpine lakes, rivers and wetlands. Approximately 23% of New Zealand’s Lake surface area occurs in Otago. The Clutha River/Mata-Au drains much of the Otago region and is the largest river in New Zealand in terms of the quantity of water carried each year. The Clutha and its principal tributary, the Kawarau River, pass through spectacular gorges, two of which are dammed for hydro-electricity generation.

With such a large and varied landscape, Otago has an equally diverse hydrology with high rainfall in the Southern Alps to low rainfall in the semi-arid Central Otago valleys. This, coupled with high seasonal evaporation rates, can affect the supply and quality of the region’s water bodies. Despite the generally large water volumes present in the region, some parts of Otago are among the driest areas in New Zealand.

The Otago Regional Council (ORC), which oversees the sustainable management of the region’s freshwater resources, monitors environmental data and regulates the consumption, damming and diversion of water, as well as water discharge that may result in a contaminant entering another source of water.

Together with Aquatic Informatics, ORC has created a new environmental data portal to replace the existing flood and low flow warning sites used by regional farmers, students, scientists, academics and other residents. The new portal now also includes water quality.

Improving the customer experience

“The new system will give people access to a user-friendly map which includes improved context of what is happening across the region, plus the ability to view and download historical data,” said Simon Wilson, manager of regulatory data and systems for ORC, 

The portal will collate data from more than 250 water monitoring sites around Otago and replace the existing flood and low flow warning sites currently available on ORC’s website. It will provide greater access to a broader range of information beyond the standard river flow and rainfall sites, including a variety of water quality parameters such a E-Coli.

In some cases, that means people will be able to easily access up to 80 years of data.

“We know the current website is well used, particularly during flood events,” said Wilson. “The new portal will provide a much better at-a-glance picture of what’s happening throughout Otago.” 

ORC’s environmental monitoring team collects a large amount of data from across the region. This data is used to track the health of Otago’s environment.

“One of our goals in setting up the portal was to make that information much more accessible to the public,” Wilson said. “We’ve started by publishing some key water quality measures and will be adding more data over time.”

Modernizing regulatory compliance

ORC monitors compliance with approximately 1,600 consents (permits) for the use of water, and about 500 discharge consents. Customers include, farmers, industry, forestry, district water providers, treatment plants and others. Some of these customers may have multiple consents. Each of the consents are individualized to the area, usage constraints, seasonable variabilities, contaminant levels, time periods, and more. Managing all these consents as efficiently as possible is vital to ensuring customers are within compliance and that Otago’s water consumption and quality is well managed.

ORC chose Aquarius, a software platform created by Aquatic Informatics that is used by water monitoring agencies around the world to acquire, process, model and publish water information in real time. ORC is in the process of creating dashboards for each consent and has built 1,000 so far. The dashboards provide a single point for regulatory staff to view all the consent variables in one place with charts and contextual visualization.

“A lot of resource consent conditions in New Zealand require interaction with monitoring data or interpretation. For example, some consent holders can only take water when a river is above a minimum flow, others have seasonal conditions or conditions relating to rainfall,” Wilson said. “Customers can hold different consents for the same activity with council staff required to add different sets of limits together.”

The dashboard provides ORC staff with a centralized resource to interpret the limits for a customer once. Then, the staff can build a fixed view so that the next person to access the consent can see the exact same data.

A single consent could have up to 20 different variables that staff need to consider.

“Using the dashboards means our staff don’t have to constantly reinterpret consents, or check what data needs to be pulled together to ensure a consent holder is compliant,” Wilson said. “This consistency and standardization is extremely valuable and a real time saver.”

About the Author

Nicole Nally

Nicole Nally is the APAC Regional Manager at Aquatic Informatics.