RiVAS - Valuing Our Waters, Tasman District

A trans-disciplinary research team investigated three main objectives through an action research project, Valuing Our Waters (VOW), in conjunction with Tasman District Council (TDC).

This case study, part of a wider research project called Freshwater Values, Monitoring and Outcomes, had three main objectives -  

  1. To explore the language of values and develop a common terminology for discussing how values should be provided for in regional plans.
  2. To test ways of assessing the significance of particular uses and values, e.g. using the River Value Assessment System (RiVAS) and to a lesser extent, choice modelling (CM), as tools to inform priority-setting by regional councils
  3. To see whether, through a process of shared learning, stakeholder experts could develop an example of how to ‘balance’ and provide for diverse and sometimes competing values in a regional plan.

This research project involved five workshops with 20 invited stakeholder experts from diverse backgrounds and an online CM survey of local residents. The six members of the research team, through numerous and robust discussions, refined and revised the research questions and objectives as we learned from the stakeholders and from each other.


The VOW case study brought together an interdisciplinary team to frame the challenges facing regional councils in managing freshwater for diverse values. With the benefit of this framing, the team convened a series of workshops to tackle the challenges faced by the TDC in incorporating values for freshwater bodies in Schedule 30 of the Tasman Resource Management Plan (TRMP). While focused on this particular topic, the workshops would also enable the project team to explore some of its wider questions around the determination, interpretation and incorporation of multiple expressions of value in freshwater management.

About 20 people from across Tasman District who are key ‘voices’ – people who are experienced and informed on some aspect of how freshwater is used and valued – were invited to participate in five full-day workshops. Participants were not asked to represent a particular sector or interest group in the sense of advocacy, but simply to share their particular knowledge and experience to help TDC make better decisions and inform the research observations distilled in this report.

Over the course of five workshops, the project team aimed to meet TDC needs and investigate a specific list of research questions. The initial workshop design aimed to:

  • Review existing assessments of freshwater values in Tasman, identify what is missing, and discuss aspirations for change.
  • Explore inter-relationships between uses and values – where are they complementary and competing.
  • Consider alternative management scenarios for specific freshwater bodies and the extent to which these would provide for a range of uses and values.
  • Assess the potential of decision-support approaches such as RiVAS and choice modelling.



RiVAS was applied to six uses and values in Tasman District – natural character, native birds, swimming,angling, kayaking and irrigation potential.



Within this context, the Tasman case study included consideration of RiVAS as a tool for the assessment of uses and values of rivers. Many of the VOW participants saw RiVAS as providing useful information, because it provides a consistent and transparent methodology for ranking the relative significance of different rivers for a given use or value, something that has been lacking to date. There were, however, also many who were cautious and in some cases sceptical about RiVAS, because of concerns about how indicators were selected and compiled, and the limitations of representing complex phenomena (e.g. habitat for several different fish species) with a single score. There were also broader concerns about the arbitrary nature of the categories themselves, the implications of how the rankings might be used in plans and decision-making, and a concern that quantifying some values may prejudice consideration of other values less amenable to quantification.

Associated Models

River Values Assessment System (RiVAS)

The RiVAS tool (and its underlying method) uses a multi-criteria analysis (MCA) approach and aims to:


Valuing our waters – a case study in Tasman District.

Sinner, J, Fenemore, A; Kilvington, M; Allen, W; Takaki, M; Baker MA

Prepared for Ministry of Science and Innovation under Contract C09X1003 by Cawthron Institute