You are here

Why fresh water matters

Children playing in riverWater is one of our most precious resources – it is essential to life on earth. This page outlines why clean water is so important.

Clean water is important for our health

We can’t live without water to drink and it’s important that the water we drink is clean and safe from things like bacteria that can cause disease. We also use water to clean ourselves, our clothes and our homes.

In New Zealand cities and towns, clean water is pumped straight into our homes. We have systems in place to monitor how safe our water is for drinking, and to manage what happens when there is an increased risk of illness.

Water supports our unique ecosystems

New Zealand is home to all kinds of unique ecosystems containing plants and animals that are found nowhere else in the world. Many of these ecosystems have fresh water – lakes, rivers, or wetlands – at their heart. Without healthy fresh water environments, many of our unique taonga such as fish, birds, and plants wouldn’t be able to survive.

Water is at the heart of our culture and identity as New Zealanders

People have important connections to water through their history, experiences and practices that are important to them. Whether it’s the places they used to swim as children, their favourite camping spots, or mountain streams they’ve encountered in national parks, many people have particular rivers or lakes that are meaningful to them.

A particular water body can be important to a person’s sense of identity. From a traditional Māori perspective, people are connected to water and to the whole natural world through whakapapa – a lineage that descends from Ranginui and Papatuanuku down to people and all parts of the environment. Some water bodies have their own specific mauri (life force) that give them their own identity. Often they are thought of as tīpuna (ancestors) that have been with us throughout history. The names of many of our rivers and lakes reflect the stories passed down through generations about the tīpuna who first discovered them, or events related to water that have influenced the history of an iwi or hapū.

Water provides us with food to eat

Many New Zealanders gather food from our lakes, rivers and wetlands such as fishing for salmon and trout and catching eels and whitebait. Māori have practiced mahinga kai (food gathering) for hundreds of years. Their traditional freshwater food sources include koura (crayfish) and tuna (eels).

It’s important that our rivers and lakes are healthy, so the plants and animals we eat can grow abundantly and are safe for us to eat.

Read a case study on how traditional methods of crayfish collection have been used to monitor their health [Statisitcs New Zealand website]

Water helps us make a living

Water is an essential resource for a whole range of industries, both primary (eg, farming and forestry) and others industries including manufacturing, construction, industrial and commercial operations.

A lot of the water used for farming comes straight from rainfall, but in some places water is taken from our rivers, lakes and groundwater to irrigate land.

Check out consented water takes to see what our water is used for [Statisitcs New Zealand website]

Water keeps our power running

Almost 60 per cent of our energy comes from hydro-electricity. This energy powers our homes and our businesses.

Hydro-electricity is a renewable source of energy. That means it doesn’t rely on taking fossil fuels out of the ground and burning them. This is great for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and combatting climate change. However it can put pressure on freshwater environments by affecting the flow of rivers.

Find out more about how hydro-electricity works [Science Learning Hub]

We enjoy water for recreation

When it comes to getting outdoors and enjoying our natural environment, water is hugely important to New Zealanders. Being able to swim in your local river is important. People also use rivers and lakes for other activities like kayaking and recreational fishing.

Even if you don’t get in the water itself, just being around water is enjoyable. Many of our rivers and lakes have parks or reserves next to them, where people can have picnics, camp, or walk their dogs.

It’s not just important to New Zealanders – our reputation as a tourist destination is based on the natural beauty of our landscapes. Many of our lakes and rivers are popular tourist attractions, which is why it’s important to preserve the ‘natural form and character’ of our rivers and lakes – the things that make them beautiful and unique.

Get the latest data about water quality at your local swimming spot [LAWA website]

If we look after our water it will look after us

When water is healthy, it’s able to sustain the plants, animals and people that depend on it. We refer to the integrated, holistic wellbeing of the water as Te Mana o te Wai. It’s the idea that water is valuable and has mana of its own beyond just what people get from it.

People need to keep the water healthy to ensure it can thrive. We also need to look after the wider environment (like our land and our trees) because these need to be healthy to keep our water healthy. It’s all about having respect and care for our water.

If we’re careful about how much water we take, we can extract water to use while leaving enough to support all the plants and animals that depend on it.  And if we’re careful about what contaminants we let go into the water, we can keep it clean and healthy while using the land to feed ourselves and make a living.

But we need to do better. Our lakes and rivers are feeling the pressure of more than 150 years of a growing population and land-use changes. Water quality has deteriorated in some areas and this is affecting our fish and other aquatic life, drinking water supplies and how we use water for recreation like swimming and fishing. The demand for fresh water also is increasing and there are shortages in some areas at certain times of the year. So we need to manage our fresh water carefully.

Get the latest data on water quality in your local rivers and lakes [LAWA website]