Water page for kids

This page provides an overview of freshwater use and management for kids.

About fresh water

The Earth’s surface is mostly water but only 2.5 per cent of this is fresh water. About 70 per cent of the world’s fresh water is stored as snow and ice in glaciers and icecaps. Most of the rest is groundwater (ie, water beneath the Earth’s surface). Less than half a per cent of fresh water is in rivers and lakes.

Fresh water in New Zealand

New Zealand has a lot of water in snowfields, glaciers, aquifers (ie, permeable rock), rivers and lakes. It ranks in the top 10 countries in the world for water access per person.

New Zealand has plentiful fresh water. We get 145 million litres per person per year.

  • Canada - 82 million litres
  • Australia - 22 million litres
  • United States - 9 million litres
  • China - 2 million litres
  • United Kingdom - 2 million litres
Source: Statistics NZ 2011, World Bank 2013

The water we use

We receive around 600 billion cubic metres of rainfall per year. This equates to 145 million litres, or 58 Olympic swimming pools, per New Zealander per year. If you lived in Australia you would only be able to fill around nine Olympic swimming pools per person. In the United Kingdom and China you wouldn’t even be able to fill one swimming pool per person!

We only use about 1.8 per cent of the water we receive (not including hydroelectricity generation). We each use about 160 litres of water daily at home in winter and this increases in summer.

New Zealand gets 608 billion m3 of water annually.

98.2% of this is unused and only 1.8% is used*.

The 1.8% we use equals 11 billion m3 (annually).

This is used in the following ways:

  • 53% - Irrigation
  • 23% - Industrial
  • 17% - Drinking
  • 7% Stock
*Excluded hydro-generation
Source: Statistics NZ 2011. Aqualinc 2010

Managing water

We all have a role in improving our water quality. what we do on land affects our water.

All water in a catchment is connected. This means nutrients in groundwater have the potential to enter surface water and vice versa.

Even though New Zealand has a lot of water, some places have issues with water quality. This is especially so around cities and towns, and in places with intensive agricultural land uses such as dairy farming. There is growing demand for water in some places in New Zealand which can lead to water shortages in an area at certain times. The government manages these issues through legislation such as the Resource Management Act 1991 and a National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management.

What you can do

There are lots of ways to save water around home – turning the tap off when you clean your teeth saves water. Also being careful what you put down drains, and where you throw your rubbish can help protect water quality.

Find out more

Story: Water resources [Te Ara - The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand website]

H2O on the go [Science Learning website]

Easy ways to save water [Smarter Homes website]