Student Profile: Thomas Wallace

Understanding the Physical and Systemic Vulnerabilities in Integrated Stopbank-Dam Catchments


June 2021

I grew up in sunny Nelson, New Zealand where I enjoyed many opportunities to connect with nature through tramping, mountain biking and family holidays in the Marlborough Sounds. In my final year of high school (after causing a lot of stress for Mum) I decided to pursue engineering. During my undergrad, I found a passion for water. Water is essential for life and connects us to the natural environment.

Following my undergrad, my friend connected me with my primary supervisor who took me on for a Masters project, ‘Determining the flood effects of undocumented stopbanks within the Waimea floodplain’. This project helped me to find myself, my passion for research, and a desire to improve the lives of individuals and communities. After my Masters, I sought to continue with research where I am now working toward my PhD at the University of Canterbury investigating vulnerabilities in flood management. My supervisors are Kaley Crawford-Flett, Tom Logan, and Matthew Wilson, and my PhD research is supported by the Resilience Challenge through the Built Environments programme.

During my free time, I enjoy trail running, rogaining (orienteering), alpine skate touring, and reading (in particular Terry Pratchett).

My project

My research is looking at the management of stopbank-dam catchments during floods.

The aim is to help move the management of these structures away from an individual element approach towards a broader system perspective. In particular, focus is being given to deepening the understanding of their operational and physical vulnerabilities. This will contribute to building New Zealand’s flood resilience to flood disasters.

The phases of research will be focused on:

  • Developing the understanding of maturity in operational elements in our flood defence systems so that risk-reducing activities may be more effectively prioritised
  • Using operational vulnerabilities to undertake probabilistic breach flood modelling to determine the exposure of communities and infrastructure to flooding
  • Developing alternative operational strategies and high-level recommendations that are able to reduce the exposure of communities and infrastructure

My research aims to raise the awareness of vulnerabilities in these systems and highlight their potential effects while providing recommendations to address these. This is hoped to shift the management of these catchments towards a more systematic view where the importance of each dam and stopbank, and the connections between them, is acknowledged. A more systematic approach to catchment management will improve resilience and reduce risk in our flood exposed communities. Because although some flooding is normal, we don’t want it to be a dam problem!

 

 

Next steps

The next steps for me are to complete my research proposal and begin developing the maturity matrices used to assess the maturity of the operational elements in our flood defence systems. After this, I’ll be undertaking a series of interviews with stakeholders for data collection.