The Southland region is the second largest in New Zealand and covers an area of 34,000 sq. km. Just over half (53%) of Southland is managed as conservation estate, while farmland occupies 85% of the non-conservation land. Approximately 91,000 people live in the Region.
Southland is drained by four major river catchments, the Waiau, Mataura, Oreti and Aparima. Combined, these cover 54% (18,305 square kilometres) of the region.
Agriculture and primary production are the main contributors to Southland's economy. Dairying has intensified significantly in recent years, with the number of dairy cows increasing 7-fold over the last 15 years.
Pressures on water quality and quantity in Southland are mainly due to agricultural intensification and industrial and urban discharges and extractions.
Environment Southland monitors 76 streams and rivers, and 13 marine sites (from December through until March) across the region to assess the state and trends of water quality.
Water quality is generally excellent in natural state areas such as Fiordland and Stewart Island. However, many lowland rivers and streams show elevated levels of nutrients above ANZECC guidelines. The Mataura and Oreti Rivers are two of the most nitrogen-enriched rivers in the country.
Air quality can also be an issue for urban areas in Southland. Invercargill and Gore area gazetted airsheds with breaches of the National Environmental Standards for Air Quality not uncommon during the winter months. A variable climate and high use of coal makes heating the highest contributor to air pollution. A new Regional Air Plan aims to reduce PM10 emissions through the phasing out of non-compliant burners and education around good burner practices.