Taranaki’s 723,610 ha make up approximately 3% of New Zealand’s total land area and the region is home to around 110,000 people. The Taranaki Region has two distinct landforms – the volcanic ring plain centred on Taranaki Maunga (and Te Papakura o Taranaki) and the dissected Taranaki hill country, over which some 530 named rivers and streams flow. Annual rainfall varies markedly, ranging from less than 1,400 mm in coastal areas to more than 8,000 mm at the summit of Taranaki Maunga. About 30% of the region is used for intensive dairying (primarily on the ring plain), 30% for sheep and beef grazing (eastern hill country) and 40% is in indigenous forest and shrub land, mostly within Te Papakura o Taranaki and areas of the inland hill country.
Taranaki’s rivers, lakes and wetlands support a range of freshwater habitats and ecosystems, including a diversity of plants and animals that live within them. Many uses of fresh water such as water supply, angling and gathering of food including eels, inanga and watercress depend on healthy habitats and ecosystems. Some are home to species that are rare or threatened.
Water is used by agriculture, industry, recreational users and municipal water supply authorities. Many of Taranaki’s rivers, lakes and wetlands are also valued for a variety of amenity values and recreational uses. These include angling, whitebaiting, eeling, swimming, canoeing, rowing, rafting, hunting, outdoor education and training. The waterbodies also have aesthetic and scenic value, and add to the recreational experience of activities such as walking, tramping and picnicking.
Water, like all other natural resources, is considered by Māori to be a taonga (treasure) to be valued, used with respect and passed on to future generations in as good or better condition than at present. Tangata whenua as kaitiaki or guardians have particular interest in the protection and enhancement of water bodies as well as their appropriate use. Particular rivers and lakes have special significance to those iwi and hapu in whose rohe (tribal areas) they are located and to which their identity is inextricably linked.
The Taranaki Regional Council has followed a long process of consultation with tangata whenua throughout the development of its key foundation policy documents for the region, the Regional Policy Statement and the Regional Fresh Water Plan.
The Regional Fresh Water Plan, made operative in 2001 is under review. The plan contains policies, methods and rules to maintain and enhance water quality in Taranaki. Council officers regularly monitor for compliance with the plan and resource consents, and take enforcement action where necessary.
The number of significant discharges from a single point to surface water has declined in recent years and there have been significant investments made by agriculture, industry and the community in waste water treatment and disposal systems. The rate of compliance with consent conditions has averaged around 95% over the past five years.
Discharges from single point sources such as farm dairy oxidation ponds, industrial site stormwater outlets and municipal/industry wastewater treatment facilities generally do not have an impact on catchment water quality. However, runoff and groundwater seepage from intensively farmed agricultural land is spread out and can impact on catchment water quality.
This led the Taranaki Regional Council to develop a voluntary riparian management strategy in the early 1990s. There has been significant growth in the programme in recent years, with over 4.7 million plants distributed through the programme for streamside planting by June 2017. The programme was recognised with a Ministry for the Environment Green Ribbon Award in June 2013.
Across the region, there are nearly 3000 riparian plans covering around 15,900 kilometers of streambanks. As of October 2020, plan holders have protected 88% of their waterways with fencing and planted 77% in riparian vegetation. Further to this, 99.9% of the approximately 1800 dairy farms in the Taranaki region have riparian plan. The improvement in water quality arising from the new riparian fencing and planting is becoming more apparent as these areas become established. There are also biodiversity benefits from the riparian management and the Regional Council’s pest animal strategies.
Regional water quality has been monitored monthly by the Taranaki Regional Council since 1995 at 11 river sites within seven catchments. These catchments are representative of a range of land uses and pressures on water quality in the region. Three sites have also been monitored by NIWA since 1989 with one of these also monitored by the Regional Council.
Monitoring has shown that upper catchment sites tend to have better water quality and ecological health compared to those in mid and lower catchments where land use is more developed and stream morphology changes. The ecological health of streams, measured by the state of water-dwelling bugs (macroinvertebrates) has improved at a majority of sites, especially at mid to lower catchment sites. The region’s fresh water generally meets guidelines for bacteria, dissolved oxygen and clarity. Bacteriological pollution and ammonia have improved and are now stable regionally. Taranaki rivers which originate from Taranaki Maunga are naturally high in phosphorus. Trends in nutrient concentrations over the last few years are generally stable or improving.
More information on environmental trends in freshwater are available from Taranaki Regional Council's website