Fresh water

The freshwater domain encompasses fresh water in all its physical forms. This includes water in rivers, lakes, streams, ponds, wetlands, aquifers (underground layers of water-bearing rock or sand), and glaciers.

The data for the freshwater domain relate only to New Zealand’s two largest islands, and not to Stewart Island, the Chatham Islands, the Tokelaus, or smaller outlying islands such as the Kermadecs and Campbell Island.

New Zealand’s fresh water sustains the natural ecosystems of many indigenous species. It provides us with a safe drinking water supply, is used for irrigation, provides recreational opportunities, and produces hydroelectric energy. For Māori, fresh water is a taonga considered essential to life and identity.

Find out about the state of our fresh water, the pressures that contribute to this state, and the impacts on us.

Latest news
See Fresh water domain updates for the latest news on fresh water domain indicators.

  • River water quality: nitrogen

    Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for plants. Small amounts are a natural component of healthy rivers, but agricultural and urban land use can add more nitrogen to waterways.

  • River water quality: phosphorus

    Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for plants, and small amounts are a natural component of healthy rivers. Agricultural and urban land use can add more phosphorus to waterways, which can cause excessive growth of algae and degrade river habitats.

  • River water quality: Escherichia coli

    Escherichia coli (E.coli) is a group of bacteria commonly found in the intestines of warm-blooded animals, including people. E.coli in fresh water can indicate the presence of pathogens (disease-causing organisms) from animal or human faeces.

  • River water quality: clarity

    Water clarity is a measure of underwater visibility in rivers and streams. Fine particles like silt, mud, and organic material can reduce the clarity of water.

  • River water quality: macroinvertebrate community index

    Benthic macroinvertebrates are small animals without backbones (eg insects and worms). They live on and under submerged logs, rocks, and aquatic plants on the beds of rivers and streams during some part of their life cycle.

  • Urban stream water quality

    Urban streams have unique water quality issues due to the presence of infrastructure and stormwater runoff from high levels of impervious surfaces. 

  • Groundwater quality

    Nitrogen occurs naturally in groundwater, but usually at very low concentrations. Agricultural and urban land use can add more nitrate-nitrogen to groundwater.

  • Groundwater pesticides

    Pesticides are commonly used in New Zealand to control insects, diseases, and weeds in primary industries. They can harm the environment and human health. 

  • Lake water quality

    When nutrients accumulate in lakes (referred to as ‘nutrient enrichment’) above certain levels, they can make the lakes murky and green with algae. The lake trophic level index (TLI) indicates the health of a lake based on its degree of nutrient enrichment.

  • Trends in nitrogen leaching from agriculture

    Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for plant growth. It occurs naturally in the environment but is added in agricultural processes (typically as fertiliser) to boost production.

  • Geographic pattern of agricultural nitrate leaching

    Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for plant growth. It occurs naturally, but in agricultural systems more nitrogen is commonly added to soils as fertiliser or from livestock waste.

  • Geographic pattern of natural river flows

    River flow is the quantity of water passing a point over a certain time. Each river or stream has its own natural flow characteristics, such as peak flows following rain or high spring flows from snow melt.

  • Consented freshwater takes

    Each river has natural patterns of high and low flows that influence how much water is available for irrigation, drinking water, hydroelectricity generation, and recreational activities. 

  • Value of water resources used for hydroelectric generation

    As the main source of renewable energy in New Zealand, the use of water supports the production of the electricity industry.

  • Streambed sedimentation

    Fine sediment is the collective term for inorganic particles smaller than 2mm that are deposited on the beds of rivers and streams.

  • Groundwater physical stocks

    Groundwater is the water stored beneath Earth’s surface in aquifers (layers of water-bearing rock or sand). It is used for human and stock drinking water, irrigation, and industry.

  • Location and extent of New Zealand’s aquifers

    Aquifers store water that can feed lakes and rivers. They are also an important source of water for towns, cities, farms, and industries.

  • Wetland extent

    Wetlands support unique biodiversity and provide important services. They clean water of excess nutrients and sediment, help absorb floodwaters, and act as carbon sinks (remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere).

  • Lake submerged plant index

    The lake submerged plant index (LakeSPI) measures the ecological condition of lakes. Ecological condition is informed by the diversity and extent of native and invasive plant species. 

  • Kaitiakitanga of the Waikouaiti catchment

    Kaitiakitanga is the active custodianship role tangata whenua have for their freshwater environments. 

  • Cultural health index for freshwater bodies

    The cultural health index (CHI) is a national tool that measures factors of cultural importance to Māori in the freshwater environment. 

  • Tau kōura: freshwater crayfish traditional fishing method

    Historically, kōura (freshwater crayfish) was an important food for Māori, who harvested large numbers for consumption and trading. 

  • Conservation status of native freshwater fish and invertebrates

    The conservation status of a species represents their risk of extinction. New Zealand has a diverse range of native freshwater fish and invertebrates, many of which are endemic (found nowhere else in the world) and have localised distributions.

  • Trends in freshwater fish

     Freshwater fish are an important component of freshwater ecosystems and have high cultural, commercial, recreational, and intrinsic biodiversity value.

  • Freshwater pests

    Freshwater plant and animal pests can reduce the indigenous biodiversity through predation, competition for food and habitat, and by damaging aquatic habitats.

  • Selected barriers to freshwater fish in Hawke’s Bay

    Human-made structures such as culverts, weirs, stormwater pump stations, tide gates, and dams can obstruct diadromous fish migrations and prevent fish from reaching critical habitats. 

  • Participation in recreational fishing

    Fresh water in New Zealand is highly valued for recreational activities, including fishing. Freshwater angling is a popular leisure activity.

  • Freshwater cross-domain indicators

    Includes indicators for livestock numbers, land use, land cover, soil erosion, water physical stocks and rainfall.

Image, Fresh water domain.
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