University of Vermont

PhD Student Pooja Kanwar Shares Management Lessons between Lake Champlain and New Zealand's Kaipara Harbour

Doctoral student Poojah Kanwar and her host family in New Zealand
Doctoral student Poojah Kanwar and her host family in New Zealand

Halfway around the world on the Kaipara Harbour of the north island of New Zealand, Pooja Kanwar talks with local and commercial fishermen, sheep and dairy farmers, regional and district planning commissioners, politicians, tidal energy advocates, and environmental non-profit stakeholders. "Who is this American PhD student?" and "Why is she here?" are just two questions they ask.

Pooja, a fourth year PhD student from the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont, is not Māori, not a New Zealander, not a fisherwoman or a farmer – she is interested in providing an unbiased perspective to the important discussion of better managing the Kaipara Harbour.

The Kaipara Harbour has similarities to Burlington, Vermont's Lake Champlain in that it is managed by multiple jurisdictions. The northern part of the harbor is administered by the rural, sparsely funded and staffed Kaipara District Council and the Northland Regional Council, while the southern part is administered by the Auckland Council, a well-endowed council with a $3 billion annual budget and over 8,000 individuals employed.

The problems in the harbor are vast and include this divided governance, commercial fisheries and overharvesting, sedimentation and agricultural intensification, opposition in management objectives including indigenous rights, and a recently approved tidal energy project.  These competing demands have a number of adverse and challenging impacts on the environmental, social, political, and cultural capital resources of the ecosystem.  Pooja recognizes that understanding the connections between risks to the harbor, the institutional governance, and existing policy is important and can be shared by managers of bodies of water countries and continents apart.

Previously, Pooja co-taught an ecological risk assessment course in the Rubenstein School with her advisor, Professor Breck Bowden; the risk assessment method she is using for her research is a relative risk approach on the regional scale discussed in the class. Sources of risk were named by stakeholders in the interviews she conducted and those will be coded in order to analyze them. She will also semi-quantitatively code habitat based on existing geographic information system (GIS) layers, including urban, agriculture, and wetland layers and use an "effects of impact" filter on the risk assessment to answer the questions "What are the sources of threat in the Kaipara Harbour? How do they affect the habitats of most concern? And where should priority be placed for management and policy?" An institutional and policy analysis will offer further insight about how the identified threats and habitats are currently being addressed.

Water resource management is Pooja's focus. She worked on water supply and sanitation issues in India for her B.S. from the University of Iowa in geography and environmental studies and for her Master's in resource management and administration from Antioch University. Prior to coming to Vermont, she worked at the University of Massachusetts Water Resources Research Center as a project coordinator.

While at UVM, Pooja earned a certificate in ecological economics from the Gund Institute and has been an active participant in student affairs as a member of the UVM Graduate Student Senate and Rubenstein School Graduate Student Advisory Board. For the first three years of her Ph.D. program, she was funded as a USDA Multicultural Fellow; she is currently being funded as a UVM Office of Sustainability Fellow.

Very conscious of the importance of disseminating information from her research, Pooja plans to return to New Zealand next summer for a conference on the Kaipara Harbour. In addition to identifying the biggest sources of threat to the harbor, she will present lessons that can be learned from other multi-jurisdictional bodies of water such as Lake Champlain. By understanding who the actors are in such relationships and the type of capital being exchanged, she hopes to highlight the gaps between those exchanges in order to pursue policy solutions to address water quality issues.