The paper uses the approach of “nested adaptive systems” to establish an operational definition of sustainable management for the Selwyn catchment of the South Island of New Zealand. The Selwyn River is an undammed alluvial river that is under intense pressure for groundwater abstraction and water quality effects from land use intensification in its catchment. It is also subject to large flow fluc- tuations. Different spatial scales were determined for sustainability analysis. Using the adaptive cycle of exploitation, accumulation, disturbance/release and reorganisation, critical variables for maintaining the resilience of the catchment in relation to land and water use pressures and the thresholds of these critical variables for management interventions to achieve sustainable systems were identified. Also crucial for sustainability was the maintenance of the linkages between the different spatial scales. For each issue, the findings from the sustainability analysis are compared with current management approaches which are primarily derived from responses to effects-based assessment of new develop- ment proposals. The sustainability analysis identifies the need for more comprehensive management approaches.
adaptive cycle, critical variables for resilience, nested spatial scales, sustainable irrigation system vulnerability
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