Declining water quality is a reality we have all been witnessing for some decades. Rivers and streams that once were an abundant resource, have had a dramatic degradation in health and productivity. Lakes that we enjoyed swimming in are now green with algae or brown with sediment. This was the case for the Pahaoa River that runs around RiverWatch founder Grant Muir's farm in Hinakura, in the Wairarapa. In 2002, it was alive and thriving. Ten years later in 2012, the river was dead and devoid of aquatic life.
Over the years Grant, and his son James, made many attempts to bring the plight of the Pahaoa River to the attention of the regional council and neighbouring farmers. But every time they discussed the degradation of the river with council, they were told to ‘prove it’. Without scientific water quality data from the river, nothing would be done to enforce the already existing environmental standards.
The story of their struggle to save the river compelled James to make the documentary film River Dog, which went on to win multiple awards around the world. The critical success of the documentary, and the attention it gained for the Pahaoa River, lead James and Grant to explore more ways in which they could help reverse the decline of freshwater quality in Aotearoa. In 2012 they set up the not-for-profit company WAI NZ - Water Action Initiative New Zealand.
They soon discovered how little information was being collected on the state of our waterways. Only 8% of our rivers and only 5% of our lakes are monitored. The traditional methods for measuring water quality are time consuming and expensive. Additionally, the limited data that is available isn’t robust, because it is typically collected at a single point in space and time. But as a river is a system in constant flux, the best way to observe and monitor changes in water quality would be to measure it continuously. So, Grant and James set out to invent a device that would gather and communicate water quality data in real-time.
The first RiverWatch prototype was awarded the WWF Conservation Innovation Award in 2016, & again in 2017, with WAI NZ becoming a finalist in the Wellington Gold Awards that same year. In 2018 RiverWatch secured R&D funding and support from Foundation North and Callaghan Innovation, allowing Grant, James, and new team member André Pinkert, to take their invention to the next level, with the hydrodynamic waka design.
RiverWatch also won the MYOB Head Start for Start-Ups Award in 2018, and was selected for the 2019 Sprout Accelerator programme.