Support the Guardian

Available for everyone, funded by readers

'Goldmine' discovery offers new groundwater insights

'Goldmine' discovery offers new groundwater insights
University of Canterbury student Romy Van der Boom is investigating historical water sampling results in the region to find a historical benchmark for water quality.

A university student has uncovered a “goldmine” of historical data that could provide a better insight into the district’s groundwater quality.
University of Canterbury student Romy van der Boom spent 10 weeks investigating historical water sampling results for the Mid Canterbury Catchment Collective (MCCC).
The Ashburton Water Zone Committee funded $6000 for the MCCC to develop catchment science information.
The MCCC engaged van der Boom, who is working towards a Master’s in Water Science and Management, to collate historical water quality and quantity data to find out if any data was missing from ECan’s database.
She was initially faced with the task of sorting through shoeboxes of pieces of paper and trawled through the Canterbury archives for a week.
Then she struck gold.
Van der Boom connected with ECan Senior Groundwater Scientist Philippa Aitch-ison-Earl.
“Philippa and her team had found 2208 historical Canterbury groundwater quality samples spanning the period 1901-1982 not currently in the ECan database,” van de Boom said.
“It’s basically lab samples they have gone and found from ESR (Environmental Science and Research), South Canterbury Catchment Board, the Department of Scientific and industrial research’s chemistry division, and the New Zealand Geological Survey.”
It had taken two years to collate the dataset samples from all over the region, including 633 samples from Mid Canterbury that date back as far as the 1940s, she said.
“No one has analysed any of this data, ever.”
She is excited about analysing the gold mine of untapped data to understand what it says about the history of groundwater in Mid Canterbury.
With the data collection finished, van de Boom will soon begin her Master’s thesis which will focus on analysing the results.
She hopes to look at the difference between the historical data and current data and “seeing what the difference in the trends are”, and how they compare to major changes in the local agricultural environment.
“I hope this research gives a bit of clarity to the farming community and the people making decisions around the regulation of groundwater.”
Phil Everest, MCCC water science update project lead, said it was critical work as “we have actually got very little data pre-1990”.
“It looks like now we can grab it back to 1940.
"We want to know what changes we can make now to ensure we have a vibrant local economy and natural environment in the future.”
Van der Boom’s findings will be presented to the MCCC and the Ashburton Water Zone Committee at the conclusion of her thesis in June 2024.

  • By Jonathan Leask