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Marlborough region

Water Quantity

Water and water resources have played a critical role in the development of Marlborough. Water is used to irrigate a variety of crops as well as in industrial processes such as winemaking and mussel processing. Farmers pump water for stock and domestic water supplies and it is reticulated by the Council and community schemes for Marlborough’s larger communities. Water is also used to generate electricity in the province and is critical for the life-supporting capacity of our ecosystems.


Allocating rights to use resources in public ownership is fundamental to Marlborough’s social, environmental and economic wellbeing. For example, our vibrant viticulture industry, which contributes significantly to Marlborough’s economy, relies on access to freshwater from rivers and aquifers.

Marlborough’s Resource Management plans provide for a sustainable allocation framework and set safe limits on many of our water resources. By mid 2015 Council had granted about 1322 consents to take water.

Many of our aquifers and rivers are fully allocated and in some cases over-allocated on paper.

The Marlborough District covers about 10,500 km2 with a diverse range of climate, geology and topography. Rainfall varies from about 600mm a year on the East Coast to more than 2500mm in some parts of northern Marlborough.

Our three largest rivers are the Pelorus, the Wairau and the Awatere. Each has a significant catchment reaching to the western boundary of the District with a  lot of their flow coming from rain in the north-west of the Richmond Ranges and other alpine areas. Because of this, these rivers tend to have more reliable flows than smaller waterways elsewhere in Marlborough where less rain falls. Some coastal areas struggle with seasonal water shortages, mainly because of high evapo-transpiration.

Marlborough’s largest river is the Wairau, which runs for about 150 km and has a catchment of 3430km2. In the lower reaches it feeds the main alluvial aquifers of the Wairau Plains. These aquifers provide long-term storage for water which in turn supports our water use and the base flows for many of the small streams and springs that our flora and fauna depend on.


The Marlborough District Council  has a comprehensive environmental monitoring network to monitor water consents, environmental changes and the effects of human-based activities. It tracks:

  • Real-time rainfall at 27 sites
  • Continuous river level at 31 sites
  • Continuous river flow at 24 sites
  • Continuous groundwater level at 33 sites
  • Telemetered  irrigation water use at 528 sites

Council also processes up to 500 manual measurements of river flow every year. This environmental data is available on the Council website

Marlborough's rivers and aquifers

 Surface water refers to rivers, lakes and other waterways above the ground. Ground water is underground, seeping slowly through gravel or rocks. Useful amounts of ground water are called aquifers and can be accessed by drilling a well and pumping the water up.  Aquifers are like natural storage tanks that are recharged by rain or river flow. Like rivers, they go down if there’s not enough rain or too much water is drawn off. 

Regional Summary
Water quantity data in this region

Regional councils collect information about how much water is available and manage resource consents for those wishing to take water from rivers or groundwater supplies. Use the buttons below to view regional information on: how much water is available, where it comes from and how its used.


Rainfall {{waterAvailable.rainfall}} Runoff to sea {{waterAvailable.runoff}} Groundwater available: {{waterSource.groundwater}}
{{waterSource.groundwaterPercentAvailable}}% of total available
Surface Water available: {{waterSource.surfacewater}}
{{waterSource.surfacewaterPercentAvailable}}% of total available
Town supply
  • How much water is there in this region?

    Rainfall and runoff in this region

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    Rainfall and runoff

    Relative Volume Source Volume
    Rainfall total:
    {{waterAvailable.rainfall }}
    rainfall Rainfall Total {{waterAvailable.rainfall}}
    Runoff total:
    {{waterAvailable.runoff }}
    runoff Runoff to sea {{waterAvailable.runoff}}

    The table above shows the average amount of rainfall the region receives each year and how much of that flows out to sea. These are approximate figures only.

  • Water consents: where does water come from?

    The split between surface water and groundwater

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    Consented water by source

    Relative volumes
    Amount available to consent Surface water:
    available to consent
    available to consent
    Volume consented Surface water:
    volume consented
    volume consented
    Source Amount available to consent Volume consented Consented as a percentage of available
    surface water ground water {{item.source}} {{item.amountAvailable}} {{item.volumeConsented}} {{item.percentageConsented}}
    {{}} {{}} {{}} {{}}

    The table above shows how much water is available to use compared with the amount that is actually consented for use. It also shows how much of this water is surface water and how much is groundwater.

    These region totals only include water management zones that have allocation limits defined.

  • Water consents: How is water used?

    Consents by use in this region

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    Annual consented water use by type

    Overall annual volume for {{waterAvailable.year}}
    Relative breakdown
    Activity Percentage of total consented Total volume Number of consents
    {{item.displayText}} {{item.displayText}} - - No data available {{item.breakdownPercentage}}% {{item.totalVolume}} {{item.numberOfConsents}}
    Total {{}}% {{}} {{}}

    The above table shows the proportion of water consented for irrigation, industrial, stock, town supply and other. It excludes hydro electricity. In this region/management zone {{hydroUsage.totalVolume}}/year is consented for hydro-electricity and makes up {{hydroUsage.percentageConsented}}% of the total water volume consented for this region/management zone

    It also excludes stock water as the taking of stock water in Marlborough is a permitted activity and a resource consent is not required or issued for this activity.

    The town supply activity total includes council operated schemes in both urban and rural settings as well as private communal rural schemes.

Surface Water Zones
Surface Water zones in the Marlborough region

Select the water management zone you'd like to see information on by clicking the buttons below or navigate using the map.

Groundwater Zones
Groundwater management zones in the Marlborough region

Select the groundwater management zone you'd like to see information on by clicking the buttons below or navigate using the map.