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Waiau River Catchment

The Waiau River is located in the Waiau-Hurunui zone (WHZ) which covers an area of 6095 km2 and is home to over 11,500 people. The river rises in the Spenser Mountains and flows eastward to the Pacific Ocean. The Waiaua has the second largest catchment (3,310 square kilometres) of all North Canterbury rivers. The upper reaches of the catchment is dominated by native vegetation, and the middle and lower reaches (particularly in the Culverden Basin) is dominated by intensive landuse practices such as beef and sheep finishing, cropping and dairying. 

Three sites on the Waiau River are monitored as part of Environment Canterbury’s state of environment monitoring programme; the main tributary streams - the Leader and Mason Rivers - are also monitored under this programme. These sites represent upper and lower reaches of alpine and hill-fed rivers.

As with many areas in New Zealand, increasing pressure is being placed on outhe Waiau River with intensifying landuse and increased demand for water take, with the lowland stretches being the worst affected. The best water quality is observed in the upper reaches of the Waiau, Leader and Mason Rivers where there has been less degradation and anthropogenic activity. The poorest water quality is typically found at sites the further near the coast where waterways are under pressure from increasing landuse intensification.

The upper reaches of the Waiau have high water quality, low nutrient and bacteria concentrations. This is typical of alpine-fed rivers, with natural vegetation dominating the upper catchment. In the lower reaches of the catchment nutrient concentrations and bacterial indicators increase. Sources of bacterial contamination are likely to include the effects of intensive land use in the middle catchment area and birds colonising the riverbed. The bacterial quality of the river at SH1 is often poor during summer, which compromises the recreational value of the river.

Sites 9

Monitored sites in the Waiau River Catchment catchment

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