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About Canterbury’s water

What are the issues with freshwater in Canterbury?

The issues facing water in Canterbury include variable water quality, lack of water in local streams and rivers, along with a perception that not enough has been done to protect our precious water resources. 

It became clear that the old ways of managing our water were not working, and we needed to balance developing our economy with the protection and enhancement of our environment. 

What is being done to protect water in Canterbury?

The Canterbury Water Management Strategy (CWMS) is a broad agreement that things needed to be done differently and better to improve the state of our fresh water. 

The philosophy behind the CWMS is that local communities are best placed to find solutions to local issues, and finding new ways of managing Canterbury’s water.  Community members, council representatives and Rūnanga have worked together to make recommendations about how water should be managed in their area.

Many of these recommendations have now become rules, and today, for example there are new requirements on farmers to limit the effects of farming on water quality. Farmers have a set of Good Management Practices that they need to meet.  For many, this includes meeting strict nutrient limits on their farm, and gaining a land use consent to farm. 

The majority of farmers are already doing the right thing, but more needs to be done to truly make progress. We are working with farmers so that they know exactly what they need to do. But it doesn’t stop there. There are actions urban dwellers can take too and we are all responsible for doing.

It will take time for these improvements to have an effect on our water quality and quantity, but we’re off to a good start.

Why did water management need to improve?

Today, we have recognised that some of what was being done in the past has had detrimental effects on our water quantity and quality.  It’s not about reversing every decision that has been made – but now, with better scientific understanding of Canterbury’s natural systems, we are working collaboratively with communities to restore some of the balance that has been lost in recent decades.

What’s the state of water in Canterbury?

Here in Canterbury, we’re fortunate to have plenty of water - the challenge is making sure the right amount of water is available at the right time and in the right place.

Water quality and ecosystem health has been stable over the past ten years, and some areas are starting to show signs of improvement.  At the same time there has been a huge increase in farming, particularly dairy farming, across Canterbury.  

So where exactly are the problems?  The areas under particular stress are our lowland streams which are fed by groundwater springs.  Water levels here are lower than they should be because of consecutive dry winters and abstraction further up the Plains, while water quality across Canterbury has been compromised because of the legacy effects of land clearing and intensive farming over decades.  

Urban areas typically have the worst water quality because of the intensive effects of our cities and towns.

How can I be kept informed about Canterbury Water?

For regular updates, follow Canterbury Water on Facebook or join our mailing list by emailing info@canterburywater.org.nz

You can also attend monthly zone committee meetings, which are open to the public, or look out for one of the community engagement meetings in your area.

Changes for farmers - the Land and Water Regional Plan

What do farmers now have to do?

New requirements under the Canterbury Land and Water Regional Plan will control the effects of farming on water quality.

Farmers now have a responsibility to farm within 'water quality limits' e.g. limits on nutrients running off their land making their way into waterways, to improve results locally and across the region.  This means many farmers will need to take actions including: 

  • Introduce Good Management Practices on the farm
  • Prepare nitrogen loss information
  • Create a Farm Environment Plan
  • Apply for a land use consent to farm
  • Be audited regularly

Want to know more about what farmers now need to do?  Check out our farming-focused website, canterburywater.farm.

About the Canterbury Water Management Strategy

What is the Canterbury Water Management Strategy?

The Canterbury Water Management Strategy (CWMS) is how Canterbury’s precious water resource is managed.

It provides a collaborative way of addressing the issues to enable present and future generations to gain the greatest social, economic, recreational and cultural benefits from Canterbury’s water resources.

The strategy sets out targets for water management in Canterbury for the next 30 years. Ten zone committees are responsible for developing water management programmes so that these targets can be met.

Who is in the Zone Committees?

Zone committees are made of community members, council representatives and Rūnanga. They are appointed for three years and meet every few weeks to gather information about water in their zone before reaching a consensus on a water management programme.

Their recommendations are then presented to the regional and territorial councils to guide relevant water management policies. Their meetings are open to the public, so that you can learn what the committee is up to and ask questions.  You are welcome to attend – find out more here.  

What are the Canterbury Water Management Strategy targets?

These targets are reviewed every three years and no one target can take priority over another.

  1. Ecosystem health/biodiversity
  2. Natural character of braided rivers
  3. Kaitiakitanga
  4. Drinking water
  5. Recreational and amenity opportunities
  6. Water-use efficiency
  7. Irrigated land area
  8. Energy security and efficiency
  9. Regional and national economies
  10. Environmental limit

What is the Immediate Steps biodiversity programme?

Immediate Steps is about achieving some quick wins, recognising that our natural ecosystems are the ‘lungs’ of the environment.  By understanding that improvements to water quality will take a long time, Immediate Steps was founded to begin to restore our ecosystems and to work with nature to improve water quality.

Through Immediate Steps, $2 million each year is available for protecting and restoring biodiversity in and around freshwater habitats. Of this, two thirds comes from rates and one third comes from land-owner contributions. 

The programme covers the protection of endangered species and wahi taonga (sacred sites), as well as maintenance of Canterbury’s braided rivers, providing habitat for native flora and fauna, and protecting wetlands and other ecosystems.

Each zone committee is responsible for local implementation of the Immediate Steps Biodiversity programme. 

Take a look at some of the Immediate Steps success stories here.

Water in our cities and towns

Where does our water go?

There are three sorts of water in our cities and towns – drinking water, wastewater and stormwater.  

Canterbury is fortunate to have a pure source of drinking water which comes from the deep groundwater aquifers that flow under the city.  

Wastewater is the water that flows through the plumbing system in your home or business.  It travels through the sewers to a wastewater treatment plant, before it is discharged to rivers or the ocean.

Stormwater is the water – and anything else – that flows down the drains in our footpaths and roads.  It collects rubbish, oil, chemicals, and anything else in its path, and goes directly into our streams and rivers, untreated.  This can have an adverse effect on health when we swim in or drink from these streams and rivers, as well as affecting the flora and fauna.

What can I do to improve the health of our rivers and streams?

Stormwater is the carrier of most pollutants into our rivers and streams. While councils are working hard on improving stormwater systems we all need to do our part and think about the impact we have on our waterways. 

The first step is not to let any rubbish find its way into the river. Washing cars, paint brush cleaning on tarmacked areas, dog poo, copper and zinc roofing and brake pads all contribute contaminants such as sediment, heavy metals and bacteria which can be all detrimental to urban streams.

Find out more about caring for our urban waterways here.

Water take consents

How many water take consents are there in Canterbury?

Environment Canterbury manages about 5900 water take consents. This is three times the number of any other region. 

How much of the water allocated is being used?

Currently 58% of the water allocated (ie consented to be used) in Canterbury is being used. Of the water meters that are currently installed, Environment Canterbury is currently receiving measurements for 97% of the water allocated in the region. 

Of the water allocated, 33% is groundwater and 67% is surface water. 

What is water being used for?

Consented water takes are used for a variety of reasons, from snowmaking to irrigation, to washing vegetables or making wine. Around 38% of the consents are for irrigation on farms.

Why is it important to measure water use on farms?

Environment Canterbury has allocated a sustainable amount of water to be used by farmers, who must comply with their consents to ensure that water remains available not only for today but for future generations. 

By installing water meters, farmers are able to ensure that they are staying within their consent conditions and that they are using water in the most efficient way possible for their farm, saving them time and money. 

Find out more about water metering requirements here.