Importance of fresh water

This page outlines why fresh water is so important and the need for careful management.

See the latest report in New Zealand's Environmental Reporting Series – Our fresh water 2017.

About fresh water in New Zealand

Our rivers and lakes are central to our natural environment, economy and way of life in New Zealand. Freshwater supports the health of our native flora and fauna. It underpins much of the New Zealand economy – it is used to irrigate crops and pastures, dispose of or dilute trade wastes and sewage, produce hydro-electric energy, and is a tourist attraction.

For Māori, fresh water is a taonga. All iwi and hapū have strong connections with local lakes and rivers, reflected in their whakapapa and history. This relationship with water is recognised under the Treaty of Waitangi. Healthy fresh water also provides mahinga kai (customary food and resource gathering).

Why we need to manage our fresh water  

By global standards New Zealand’s fresh water is mostly of good quality and we have plenty of it – 145 million litres per person per year.

However more than 150 years of changing land uses and population growth, with a limited understanding of the effects on water, have put pressure on our rivers and lakes. In some areas we do not always have enough fresh water where and when we need it. In others, freshwater quality is under pressure. This affects our native biodiversity and the extent water can provide for our needs, such as recreation, cultural wellbeing, tourism and economic production.

Balancing fresh water needs

As freshwater meets a wide variety of needs for different people in different communities, we need to balance these needs, while ensuring the health of freshwater ecosystems is safeguarded.

We all have a role to play

New Zealand can be leaders in smart, sustainable management of freshwater. We all have a role in this, from those who volunteer their time and skills for protection and clean-up projects to government, the farming sector and other businesses who use fresh water.

Find out more

For an overview of the Government's latest proposals to improve the quality of our fresh water, see:

Clean Water package 2017.

Water is not always where we need it, when we need it.

We need to manage our water carefully because in some places we are approaching limits to the amount of water we have available to use.

Source: Aqualinc 2010 DoC 2010