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Lake Ellesmere/Te Waihora Project

This page provides information on the Lake Ellesmere/Te Waihora Project. It received funding from the Fresh Start for Freshwater Fund in 2013 to address historical water quality issues. The project runs to mid-2017.  

Project details

Project cost:

$11.6 million

Crown funding:

$6 million


Selwyn, Canterbury


Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, Environment Canterbury, Fonterra, Selwyn District Council, Lincoln University and local community.

Project purpose:

The restoration and rejuvenation of mauri and the ecosystem health of Te Waihora.

Project timeframe: 2013–mid-2017


Lake Ellesmere/Te Waihora is the largest lake in Canterbury and an important link in the chain of coastal lagoons and estuaries along the South Island's east coast.

It is a tribal taonga for Ngāi Tahu. The lake bed was vested with the iwi in their 1998 Treaty of Waitangi Deed of Settlement.

An internationally significant wetland for wildlife, it supports a rich biological environment. However, land-use changes and clearing of wetlands in the catchment have caused the deterioration of the lake's water quality over time. The National Institute of Water and Atmosphere’s 2010 Lake Water Quality Report rated it as having the worst nutrient status of the 140 lakes measured.

Funded interventions

 Water quality issues are being addressed through:

  • restoration and enhancement of specific cultural sites and mahinga kai (traditional food sources)
  • activities to protect and restore the lake margin wetland habitats and existing indigenous vegetation and wildlife 
  • restoration of specific lowland tributary streams and riparian habitats
  • activities to improve the lake and catchment management practices by focusing on sustainable land use and drainage practices
  • development of a robust monitoring and investigations programme.

Project update – February 2016

Since the beginning of the project, funding has been used to:

  • plant over 200,000 native plants
  • implement weed and willow control at priority sites. This included aerial spraying over 100 hectares of grey willow and all known sites of Reed Canary Grass around the lake shore
  • install one wave barrier to support the establishment and protection of macrophyte beds which have been planted in the lake
  • complete 36 kilometres of waterway re-battering work
  • complete erosion control works on the Kaituna River.
  • complete stream walks on both Waikekewai Stream and Harts Creek
  • support the Te Ara Kākāriki community trust to deliver the Kids Discovery Plant-Out which involved 1,000 students from 12 local schools who planted 4,000 native plants.
  • re-establish a wetland – Te Repo Orariki (Taumutu Wetlands) – which involved a landscape plan approved by local rūnanga, earthworks and planting of native plants
  • hold five farm environmental plan workshops and complete 53 farm environmental plans
  • continue monthly water monitoring
  • monitor key mahinga kai species (yellowbelly flounder, shortfin eels, longfin eels)
  • complete investigations into:
    • lake opening sites
    • the feasibility of deepening in-lake channels and possibilities for an engineered lake level
    • a fish habitat survey of the Halswell/Huritini River and Ahuriri Lagoon
    • a mudfish habitat
    • assessments of surface inflow nutrient attenuation and in-lake nutrient attenuation.
  • support Lincoln University and Canterbury University in the development of an integrated monitoring programme.

Te Waihora planting site - Lower Kaituna river with Te Waihora in the background - planted Spring 2013 
(Photo: Andy Spanton, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu)

Te Waihora planting site - Huritini Halswell river, Tai Tapu - planted Autumn 2013
(Photo: Andy Spanton, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu)

Te Waihora planting site - Ahuriri reserve - planted Autumn 2014
(Photo: Andy Spanton, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu)

Find out more

For stories on Lake Ellesmere/Te Waihora visit the Whakaora Te Waihora website.