Saturday, November 27

Bleak picture for New Zealand’s waterways on World Rivers Day

Freshwater monitoring released this morning shows that two-thirds of New Zealand’s river sites are ecologically degraded.

An image of one of the 50 rivers that Bruce Hopkins crossed in just one day in Te Araroa.

The state of New Zealand’s rivers is the focus of a new survey.
Photo: Bruce hopkins

The Land Air Water Aotearoa project, a collaboration between the central and local government, NIWA, and the Cawthron Institute, has compiled results from more than 15,000 sites in its new summary.

The launch, scheduled today for World Rivers Day 2021, found that the poorest sites are generally found in urban and grassland-dominated catchment areas.

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

“New Zealand’s leading indicator of fecal bacterial contamination shows an equally poor pattern with two-thirds of the sites receiving undesirable grades for E. coli.

“The poorest results are found at sites in urban watersheds, followed by grasslands, then exotic forests. Unsurprisingly, the best ecological health is generally found in streams that drain native vegetation.”

A interactive map on LAWA website shows the geographic distribution of state results and trends against freshwater indicators in the National policy statement for freshwater management.

LAWA River Quality Director and Auckland Council Lead Water Scientist Dr Coral Grant said the results pinpoint where problem areas lie.

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

“While urban rivers and streams account for only 1 percent of the total river length in New Zealand, they flow through areas of significant land cover transformation and four out of five urban waterway sites monitored show signs of severe contamination or nutrient enrichment “.

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

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council Executive Director and Environment Ministry Freshwater Implementation Group member James Palmer said regional councils and unit authorities will work with communities to develop plans in the coming years.

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

“World Rivers Day seeks to raise awareness of the value of waterways and the threats they face to encourage better stewardship. Here in New Zealand, we care deeply about the health of our waterways and the data released today by the The LAWA project further reinforces how much work lies ahead to restore our rivers. “

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