Dark image for New Zealand’s waterways on World Rivers Day

Freshwater monitoring released this morning shows two-thirds of New Zealand’s riverine sites are environmentally degraded.

The state of New Zealand’s rivers is being re-investigated.
Photo: Bruce hopkins

The Land Air Water Aotearoa Project – a collaboration between central and local government, NIWA and the Cawthron Institute – compiled the results of more than 1,500 sites in their new summary.

The post, scheduled for World Rivers Day 2021 today, found that the poorest sites were generally in urban catchment areas and dominated by pasture.

“Our analysis shows that alteration in ecological health is evident in almost two-thirds of the monitored river sites in New Zealand,” Roger Young, project member and Cawthron freshwater ecologist, said in a statement.

“New Zealand’s main indicator of faecal bacterial contamination shows an equally poor pattern, with two-thirds of the sites receiving undesirable scores for E. coli.

“The poorest results are found in urban watershed sites, followed by pastures, then exotic forests. Not surprisingly, the best ecological health is usually found in streams draining native vegetation.”

An interactive map on the LAWA website shows the geographic distribution of status and trend results against freshwater indicators in the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management.

LAWA River Quality Officer and Auckland Council Senior Water Scientist Dr Coral Grant said the results identify problem areas.

“Exploring the river quality map on the LAWA website provides an overview of the challenges for each indicator,” she said in a statement. “This reflects our findings that the poorest results are often found in the most modified environments.”

“While urban rivers and streams make up only 1% of the total river length in New Zealand, they pass through areas of significant land cover transformation and four of the five urban waterway sites monitored show signs of severe pollution or nutrient enrichment. “

The policy statement for freshwater management requires that each regional and unitary council, in consultation with its community, develop a comprehensive plan to maintain or improve the condition of freshwater.

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council chief executive and member of the Environment Department’s freshwater implementation group, James Palmer, said over the next few years, regional councils and unitary authorities will work with communities to develop plans.

“While a lot of work has been done in many of Aotearoa’s watersheds, it will take time and sustained effort to bring some of our most compromised rivers to the desired state.

“World Rivers Day aims to raise awareness of the value of waterways and the threats they face in order to encourage better management. Here in New Zealand we care deeply about the health of our waterways and the data released today by Project LAWA further reinforces how much work needs to be done to restore our rivers. “

Land Air Water Aotearoa project chairman Dr Tim Davie, who is also scientific director at Environment Canterbury, said there has been a lot of hard work to improve the quality of fresh water.

But change has been slow to happen and the results have been “slightly disappointing”.

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