Water is central to New Zealand’s social, economic and cultural well-being. It grows our food, powers our business and is highly valued for its recreational uses.
Click on your region to find out about the health of rivers in your area.
Click on the National Picture tab for national-level information on the condition of New Zealand's rivers.
Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ provide a national picture of the environment in regular reports produced under the Environmental Reporting Act 2015. Below is the overview of the freshwater domain from the Our fresh water 2017 report.
The condition of our lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands, and groundwater is important for a number of reasons. For Māori, fresh water is a taonga and essential to life and identity. Our economy depends on having plentiful water – agriculture, tourism, and hydroelectricity generation particularly rely on water. New Zealanders and tourists enjoy many forms of recreation that use our lakes and rivers, such as swimming, kayaking, and fishing. Our waterways also support many indigenous animals, plants, and ecosystems. Fresh water is primarily taken for hydroelectricity generation and irrigation for farms, and our fresh water quality depends mainly on the dominant land use in a catchment.
Top findings – river quality:
This summary focuses on two nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorus, which can tell us something about the risks of algal blooms; and E.coli (an indication of faecal contamination), which can tell us whether water bodies are safe for recreation.
Nutrients occur naturally and are necessary for plants to grow. However, high nutrient concentrations can result in too much growth of algae in water (this algae is generally periphyton in rivers and phytoplankton in lakes). Excessive algae in water can decrease oxygen levels, prevent light from penetrating water, and change the composition of freshwater plant and animal species that live there. High concentrations of nitrogen can be toxic to species and make water unsafe to drink.
The activities we do on the land, mainly urban and agricultural activities, can cause excess nutrients and E.coli to wash into our water bodies through run-off or filter through the land into groundwater. Phosphorus often enters surface water attached to sediment.
In urban environments, contaminants enter water bodies mainly through stormwater and wastewater networks, illegal connections to the networks, and leaky pipes, pumps, and connections.
In agricultural areas, nutrients and pathogens (organisms that can cause disease) come from animal waste and urine, and fertilisers. Since the late 1970s, agricultural practices have intensified in some areas of New Zealand, indicated by higher stocking rates and yields, increased use of fertiliser, pesticides, and food stocks, and moves to more intensive forms of agriculture, such as dairying. Agricultural land use is the world’s greatest contributor to diffuse pollution (run-off from the land or filtration through the soil). However, since diffuse discharges are hard to measure, it is difficult to determine the relationship between specific land use and water quality.
For more detail see: