Freshwater report highlights need for continued efforts to protect and restore healthy waterways

Government Ministers today welcomed the release of an official statistical report highlighting the key issues affecting our rivers, lakes, streams, catchments and aquifers.

Our Freshwater 2020, released by the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ, underlines the importance of government efforts to ensure healthy freshwater, protect native freshwater biodiversity, make land use more sustainable and combat climate change. 

Environment Minister David Parker said the report will help inform the work already underway, to protect and restore waterways and the life in them. 

“New Zealanders want to swim, fish, gather mahinga kai and enjoy freshwater as our parents and grandparents did. We also need clean water to drink and irrigation to support a sustainable economy,” he said. 

“But our water is suffering as a result of human activities, including the effects of climate change.” 

The report highlights the inherent connection between people and the environment: our activities on land are having a negative effect on our freshwater ecosystems and the plants and animals that live in them.

Each catchment is different, so it is challenging to present a national picture of the state of our freshwater, but some conclusions are clear; our native freshwater species and ecosystems are under threat; water is polluted in urban, farming, and forestry areas; and the way we change water flows can have a range of impacts on freshwater ecosystems.

These issues combined, and with the impact of climate change, add up to significant pressure on our freshwater species and habitats.

David Parker said the Government has work underway to address the issues presented in the report.  

“The Government’s primary focus at the moment is responding to COVID-19. As we move through our response to COVID-19, we will revise and reconsider the wider priorities and the timing of work streams,” David Parker said.

David Parker noted that the Resource Management Amendment Bill is currently before Parliament, which will also benefit freshwater health and help mitigate climate change impacts.  

Climate Change Minister James Shaw said all the issues in the report are made worse by climate change and that is why this government is so determined to take strong action.

“Freshwater is crucial to all of us – not just for drinking, but for farming, industry and energy too. The freshwater report shows clearly the pressures we are putting on this precious resource as a direct result of climate change.

“Action on climate change is not only something that will help our economy and improve our communities, but it will improve the quality of our freshwater too.

“The passing of climate change legislation, establishing an independent climate change commission to guide emissions reductions, strengthening the Emissions Trading Scheme, committing to plant 1 billion trees, and planning a just transition to a low emissions economy are all vital steps this Government has taken,” James Shaw said. 

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage said the report highlighted the importance of law changes last year to protect native fish, and the work the Department of Conservation was leading to develop a new national biodiversity strategy.

“The freshwater report outlines well the pressures on native fish such as īnanga/whitebait and the importance of reducing sediment and nitrogen pollution and barriers to fish migration to ensure healthy fish populations,” said Eugenie Sage. 

“I’m proud of the work done last year to strengthen legal protection for native freshwater fish and DOC’s efforts now on specific measures to look after whitebait in streams and rivers around Aotearoa.

“The Biodiversity Strategy is currently being finalised after public consultation.  It will commit New Zealand to a clear vision and specific measures to better protect our unique freshwater habitats and plants and wildlife,” she said.

The Our Freshwater 2020 report is available at: https://www.mfe.govt.nz/overview-our-freshwater-2020