Groundwater Management

High quality groundwater sustains a substantial, and increasing, amount of economic activity in New Zealand. It is the source of drinking water for about 40% of New Zealand’s population, and of irrigation water for about 200,000 hectares of land. Groundwater also sustains highly valued spring-fed streams, lakes, and wetlands.

Aqualinc’s team of engineers and scientists work collaboratively with central and local government, industry, and land-owners to develop innovative and cost-effective methods for managing this valuable resource.  We undertake consulting and research projects in a wide variety of areas, including:

  • Determining environmentally sustainable levels of groundwater abstraction.

  • Assessment and management of salt water intrusion risks.

  • Development and use of groundwater models for management of groundwater allocations (including predicting effects).

  • Integrated management of groundwater and surface water.

  • Aquifer pump tests.

  • Well and pump performance testing.

  • Groundwater level forecasting.

  • Assessing impacts of climate change and sea level rise on the environment and infrastructure.

Through research funding, we have significant expertise in areas that are key to characterising aquifer systems and hydrogeological processes. We have several peer reviewed models of aquifer systems in New Zealand and some of our recent projects include:

  • investigating the impacts of the Canterbury earthquakes on the groundwater system

  • determining the role of deep artesian groundwater on liquefaction potential

  • development of integrated surface water and groundwater modelling approaches

  • methods to inform the public on the balance between stakeholders when assessing impacts of different water use options (the Wheel of Water).

Groundwater Quality Protection

Groundwater protection is a key issue in current times, with recent crises at the front of many peoples’ minds.  Aqualinc are involved in a number of projects to assess flow and transport through aquifer systems, assisting local and regional councils, as well as land owners, to understand the cause-effect relationship.  This can vary from delineating the source protection zone around a groundwater well for public supply, to determining how regional land use change might impact on groundwater quality, and consequently on surface water quality, at distances of many kilometres down-gradient.

This area of work extends to major research projects, and Aqualinc has been involved in carrying out leading-edge research on the movement of contaminants through the unsaturated zone and groundwater systems.  The aim has been to deliver much-needed information and tools for managing land-use to protect groundwater quality.

Our work provides information and tools which are applied to solve problems concerning:

  • The long-term effects of irrigating effluent onto land.

  • Nitrate contamination of groundwater by intensive agriculture.

  • The migration of contaminant plumes in aquifers and the risks they pose to drinking water supplies.

  • The location of water supply bores to meet Ministry of Health standards, including calculating groundwater age and well head protection.

  • Land-use effects on water quality in spring-fed streams.

Sustainable Groundwater Allocation

Groundwater allocation is a crucial strategic issue for New Zealand because in most areas around NZ, groundwater forms a significant component of supply, and use of groundwater has significant economic, environmental, social and cultural effects. The scale of these effects, in physical terms, starts at paddock scale (or smaller) and accumulates to catchment scale. Water allocation decisions also have financial impacts, directly affecting the socio-economic well-being of individuals, their families, the communities in which they live, and the nation as a whole.

Through a mixture of research and consultancy Aqualinc answer a wide range of questions for their clients, such as:

  • What impact does increasing amounts of groundwater abstraction have on the flow regime of groundwater-fed rivers and streams?

  • How much do these flow regime changes affect in-stream habitat values, and ecosystem function?

  • What impact does increasing abstraction have on the reliability of water supplies to individual groundwater users, and on the socio-economic wellbeing of communities?

  • How does the community decide how much groundwater to allocate for abstraction, and how much to leave to sustain groundwater dependent ecosystems?


Aqualinc is the New Zealand centre of excellence in irrigation engineering and water management. Our aim is to help irrigated agriculture be both profitable and environmentally sustainable. To achieve this we undertake consulting and research projects in areas such as:

  • Determining irrigation water requirements that meet standards for “reasonable and efficient use”.

  • On-farm irrigation system design and water management.

  • Irrigation efficiency and effectiveness.

  • Irrigation scheme planning, feasibility studies and design.

  • Resource consent applications for farms and irrigation schemes.

  • Assessment of Environmental Effects of irrigation.

Aqualinc also provides data logging and telemetry services for water management and consent compliance.  We can design and install telemetered sensor networks for optimal irrigation scheduling based on water usage, soil moisture, and climate monitoring.


Please visit to learn more about our data logging and telemetry services.


The Irrigation Requirements Database (Irricalc Seasonal Volumes) is now located at Please update any old bookmarks to this URL.

Farm Irrigation

All land owners who have irrigation systems face the challenge of ensuring that their irrigation systems are profitable, sustainable and practical to operate alongside other farming operations.

Aqualinc delivers independent expert advice, and comprehensive practical information to help land owners meet this challenge. Our irrigation engineers have the experience to deal with all aspects of farm irrigation, for all types of land uses and all irrigation purposes – soil moisture management, frost protection, effluent disposal and soil renovation or rehabilitation.

For land owners wishing to invest in a new irrigation system, Aqualinc’s irrigation engineers can:

  • Assist with initial planning, concept development and obtaining resource consents.

  • Undertake detailed design and provide a comprehensive bill of materials.

  • Audit irrigation designs developed by others.

  • Conduct post-commissioning audits to ensure that your new irrigation system performs to your specifications.

For those investigating the purchase of an irrigated property, Aqualinc staff provide independent advice on:

  • The suitability and condition of the irrigation and water supply system.

  • The terms and adequacy of the resource consents held.

For owners of irrigation systems that have been in use for a few years, Aqualinc’s engineers can:

  • Conduct periodic in-service audits to check that your irrigation system continues to operate to specification and reliably deliver the gains in production and profitability that motivated the original investment in irrigation.

  • Investigate loss of performance issues for pumps and wells, and recommend solutions.

  • Optimise the design of additions to existing on-farm distribution systems.

Irrigation Schemes

Irrigation scheme developers face the increasingly difficult challenge of getting the fundamentals right in a resource management environment that grows more complex every year.

It is fundamental that irrigation schemes are:

  • Profitable enterprises.

  • Able to meet environmental performance standards sufficiently well to gain resource consents.

  • Able to deliver water at a price and supply reliability that is attractive to a very high proportion of the potential customer base.

Getting it right requires input from a wide range of expertise – agricultural, technical, legal, commercial, environmental, to name of few.

Aqualinc provides specialist services to irrigation scheme developers in the key areas of:

  • Water demand assessment

  • Water allocation and water availability assessment

  • Determining the storage required to meet supply reliability criteria

  • Obtaining resource consents

  • Design of pipe distribution systems.


Resource Consents

Resource consents are permissions to use or develop a natural or physical resource, or to carry out an activity that affects the environment. In most cases, the use of a resource is prohibited unless expressly allowed by a rule in a regional or district plan. The main exception is land use, which is permitted unless it contravenes a rule in a district plan. If this is the case, a resource consent may be necessary for land use.

Regional and district plans indicate whether applications for resource consent will be required in particular circumstances and, if so, what information should be submitted to support them. All applications must be accompanied by an assessment of environmental effects. Conditions may be attached to a resource consent in order to avoid, remedy or mitigate any adverse effects associated with the activity in question.

Aqualinc staff have considerable experience in helping clients obtain the resource consents required to use water or to dispose of wastes. They are very familiar with the relevant sections of regional and district plans, the resource consent process, and have an excellent track record in preparing Assessments of Environmental Effects that meet council requirements.

General information on the process of obtaining resource consents is available at For more specific information contact your local regional or district council, or an Aqualinc staff member.​


Land Use Impacts

All forms of land use affect sub-surface water quality and water flows. Increasing the intensity of primary industry land uses, the scale of mining operations, and the quantity of wastes applied back on the land all increase risks to groundwater and groundwater dependent ecosystems.

Aqualinc is actively involved in efforts to achieve sustainable economic growth through our consulting and research in areas such as land-based treatment of effluent, diffuse discharge of contaminants to groundwater, and the impacts of mining on water quality and flows.

Intensive Agriculture

Aqualinc’s expertise on water and contaminant transport in soils, vadose zones, and groundwater systems, and our practical knowledge of agriculture and horticulture equips us well to take a “whole systems” approach to assessing the effects of land-use activities on groundwater quality.

Our team of scientists and engineers work collaboratively with government agencies and land-owners to develop answers to the following types of questions...

  • Will this farm development change groundwater quality significantly and how could the risk of adverse effects be minimised?

  • What is a groundwater system’s capacity to safely assimilate nutrients and other contaminants?

  • How significant is the vadoze zone in reducing the risk of groundwater pollution?

  • What is the “carrying capacity” of agricultural land overlying an aquifer?

  • What area of land contributes to the contaminants in groundwater pumped by a specific water supply bore?

Land Treatment of Effluent and Wastewater

Aqualinc specialises in the design and management of systems for land treatment of effluent and wastewater. We provide consulting services in the following areas:

  • Feasibility studies and issues and options analyses.

  • Assessment of Environmental Effects.

  • Resource consent applications and hearings.

  • Design and commissioning of land-treatment systems.

These services are backed up by comprehensive research on the long-term effects of land-treatment of effluent on groundwater quality.


Water Management

Wise management of water resources is fundamental to sustaining economic growth and natural environments, and increasing the health, wealth and well-being of New Zealanders.

Aqualinc is committed to helping New Zealanders allocate and use freshwater in a sustainable, efficient and equitable way.

Our team of water management specialists contributes to achieving this goal by:

  • Identifying better, and more strategic, ways of conserving and allocating water from aquifers, rivers and lakes.

  • Identifying means of addressing water shortages and protecting in-stream values and needs.

  • Developing the knowledge and tools required to maximise the efficiency and effectiveness of water use.

  • Working with central and local government agencies to optimise economic and social outcomes from freshwater use at a regional and national level.

  • Increasing knowledge and providing information that enables issues of at-risk nationally significant water bodies to be addressed.

Water Allocation

The process of allocating water for abstraction from natural sources must provide answers to key questions such as:

  • How much water can be allocated for abstraction?

  • What conditions or rules should govern the taking of water?

  • How should the allowable water take be allocated to specific users?

  • What conditions should govern the use of the abstracted water?

Guiding principles are that the taking and use of water is environmentally sustainable, and that the use is reasonable and efficient.

Aqualinc’s water management experts are regularly engaged by water users and government agencies to develop answers to the above questions – to determine how best to allocate scarce water resources, taking into account the environmental, economic, social and cultural implications of water allocation decisions.

Integrated Management

The development of water resources sustains communities through the provision of safe and reliable supplies of water for drinking, recreation, industry, agriculture and energy production.

Managing water resources to meet these needs in a way that is environmentally and socially sustainable requires an ability to see, and work with, the Big Picture.

The Aqualinc team has that ability. We work on the following types of projects:

  • Strategic planning, development and management of water resources

  • Integrated water management

  • Water demand analysis

  • Water supply capacity and reliability analysis

  • Assessing the effects of climate change on water supply and demand



Aqualinc staff are passionate about doing research that equips communities and individuals with the knowledge and tools for world-class water and nutrient management.  Management that is better for the environment, better for the economy and better for our country.   Current and past funders of our research work include MBIE (Endeavour Fund,  Natural Hazards Research Platform), The Marsden Fund, MPI, MfE, Regional Councils, Irrigation New Zealand, and the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development.


The core purpose of our research is to lead New Zealand forward in these areas:


  • Water Management: Limit Setting  Information, methods and tools for Evidence-Based Decision Making for Setting Standards and Limits with respect to water quality and water allocation.


  • “Real-Time” Water Management  Practical methods and systems for operating within water quality and allocation limits and maximising socio-economic benefits of water and nutrient use.


  • Irrigation Information, methods and tools for Irrigation Planning, Design and Management  (covering both fresh water and effluent irrigation systems).


  • Integrated water flow modelling  Information, methods and tools for Integrated modelling of water flows in and between groundwater systems, rivers, lakes and water uses.


  • Groundwater  Increasing understanding of the dynamic response to natural forces and human activities of water and nutrient flows and volumes in groundwater systems, and in the unsaturated zone between the water-table and the land surface.

Irrigation Managment

Aqualinc provides expert Irrigation Management advice based on soil moisture measurements in selected crops and paddocks.  Soil moisture measurements are made with a neutron probe or telemetered soil moisture sensors.


Soil moisture is measured with a neutron probe in fields every 5-7 days or continuously monitored through telemetered soil moisture sensors.  The grower’s soil moisture measurements (neutron probe or telemetered), rainfall, irrigation and the forecast weather for the next 5-7 days are used to provide an irrigation management schedule for each crop or paddock monitored.  The schedule advises the next irrigation date and application amount or daily irrigation requirements.


Data quality is paramount.  Telemetered data is checked regularly for continuity and any incorrect measurements.  Calibrations of telemetered sites are checked twice a year with a neutron probe.


Telemetered soil moisture sensors are field calibrated, and a check measurement is carried out every year.


Soil water holding capacity and ground-truthing of Electro-magnetic (EM) scanning is carried out with the neutron probe.