The Society celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2008.
New Zealand Freshwater Sciences Society was founded in 1968 by a group of freshwater scientists interested in maintaining links in their field. It was also a time of increasing public interest in the management of freshwaters with lake weed and eutrophication issues in several areas, the newly passed Water and Soil Conservation Act 1967 and the first national environmental campaign to ‘Save Manapouri’ questioning further hydroelectric power development. Society membership remained relatively small during the 1970s, with annual conferences held throughout the country attended by about 30 members to discuss research and provide opportunities to visit areas and collect samples.
By the late 1970s and early 1980s, New Zealand was considering various options for future freshwater management during the ‘think big’ era which led to an increase in freshwater investigations and reviews of freshwater policy as well as research opportunities. This time was characterised by the management issues including development of the MCI and national debates about ‘wild and scenic’ rivers. A highlight for the Society at the end of the period was the highly successful running of the SIL conference in 1988 in Hamilton, the first of these to be held in the southern hemisphere.
By the late 1980s environmental and tertiary education reviews were affecting the context for education, research and management. This culminated in the reorganisation of water management through the Resource Management Act 1991, with the associated demise of considerable central government funding, the National Water and Soil Conservation Authority, DSIR and Water Quality Centre, environmental government departments, catchment boards and Acclimatisation Societies and their replacement with the Ministry for the Environment, NIWA, Department of Conservation, regional councils and fish and game councils, respectively.
The 1990s saw the decentralisation of freshwater management and a growing proportion of society membership made up of local and central government officers and policy makers, as well as significant increases in under- and post-graduate student numbers with expanding Universities. Society membership expanded steadily through this period. The importance of freshwater as an economic and environmental resource has remained high, with considerable expansion of water use and concerns about environmental degradation. Water management has become more sophisticated through regional plans and more complex requirements on water users through resource consent processes.
Over the last 10 years the economic value of water has increased in proportion with its perceived scarcity, with increasing concerns expressed about maintenance of water quality with increasing intensification of land use. Development of complex modelling of, for example, effects of river flow changes on biota, pollutant transport, landuse effects on water, has challenged freshwater scientists to provide answers to complex technical issues. Society numbers have continued to steadily grow, with more emphasis on liaison, education and policy and better links with other societies, especially with the Australian Society of Limnology with which the Society has joint conferences every four years since the first joint meeting at Wairakei in 1999. About a quarter of Society members are students, with about a third practising scientists in research institutions or Universities, a third working for regional or central government and the remainder in consultancy, other education or advocacy.