The Region is home to over 255,000 people, with approximately half living in the two largest population centres, Palmerston North and Whanganui. Both straddle lowland reaches of major rivers – the Manawatū and Whanganui, respectively, with the Rangitīkei being the third major river in the Region. We also have over 179 lakes, 40 estuaries, and the Central Plateau. We are home to the most extensive hill country area in New Zealand. Many small towns and settlements have established themselves along the Region's waterways, which provide an important resource for them.
Extensive agriculture, mainly sheep and beef farming, account for more than half the land use (51%), with dairying using about 6.7% of the total area, including large parts of the Manawatū-Horowhenua coastal floodplain. Forestry covers 7.6%, and just under a third of the land area (30.9%) is in native cover, including nationally important forests and the protected Tongariro and Whanganui National Parks.
Overall, water quality in the headwaters of most rivers and streams is good. However, a range of factors causes the quality to decline as it journeys towards the coast. Natural influences on water quality include changes in climate, soil and landscape. In contrast, man-made factors include land use and waste discharges. A history of vegetation clearance and increased agriculture has contributed to hill country erosion, nutrients entering the waterways and more water used for irrigation, all of which change water quality.
Rivers, streams and lakes are important for recreation in the Region. Residents and visitors enjoy kayaking, swimming, rafting and fishing. Over the summer, Horizons monitors the water quality at over 80 popular swimming spots, and the results are available on LAWA.
Horizons also has an extensive programme for monitoring and managing water quality and the amounts taken from waterways for municipal, agricultural and industrial use. The Regional Council’s scientists and technologists use automated and manual monitoring, sampling and reporting equipment for over a hundred State of the Environment (SoE) water quality monitoring sites and 29 sites measuring the impact of direct discharges to water throughout the Region. The council also collects water quality data from seven of the Region’s estuaries, 35 Groundwater sites, 17 Lakes, algal cover and biomass from 65 river sites, and macroinvertebrate information from over 90 monitoring locations.