Environment Southland

Water Story

Haere mai and welcome to our new and evolving Water Story. This is a place where you can learn more about how our fresh waterways are doing and what some of the key stresses on them are. We’ll also be sharing and profiling some of the great things that are going on across the region in an effort to help maintain and improve them. We hope you’ll come on this journey with us.

What does water give?

Our freshwater environments support our way of life. Our health and cultural wellbeing, natural ecosystems, and the economy are all supported by it. We use freshwater to drink, to produce goods and services, and enjoy it for recreation. For Māori, freshwater is a taonga (treasure) and fundamental to the cultural identity of iwi and hapū. Water is a fundamental element to the New Zealand way of life.

We all have a common interest in making sure that our lakes, rivers, aquifers and wetlands are managed and cared for well. Their health and wellbeing is vital for the health and wellbeing of our land, our resources (including fisheries, flora and fauna) and our communities. When water quality declines, it influences the way we use the water, and the water's ability to support freshwater ecosystems and social and economic activities.

Social wellbeing

Freshwater is highly valued for its recreational ability, and plays a significant role in New Zealand's identity. In a healthy waterbody, people are able to connect with and contact the water through a range of activities, including swimming, boating, and fishing.

Most of New Zealand's drinking water supplies are sourced from surface water (water that collects on the surface of the ground, e.g. a lake) or groundwater (water that has made its way down through the soil to underground areas called aquifers). Potability (or suitability and safety for drinking) is an expectation New Zealanders have of the water that comes out of their taps.

The quality and state of our local living environment also has a direct impact on our health and wellbeing. An unspoiled environment is a source of satisfaction, improves mental wellbeing, and encourages people to be physically active. A pleasant environment, such as a clean lake or river, can also help to cultivate our social relationships with one another.

Cultural wellbeing

Freshwater has deep cultural meaning to all New Zealanders. For local iwi Ngāi Tahu, water is woven deep into their identity and traditional cultural practices. A healthy fresh waterway enables mahinga kai (food gathering) to take place, a central pillar of their culture. Mahinga kai encompasses the resource harvested (e.g. food, fibres, muds, clays and soil, stonework), the ability to access the resource, the site where gathering occurs, the act of gathering and using the resource, and the good health of the resource. Mahinga kai is central to Ngāi Tahu ki Murihiku relationships with places, waterways, species and resources, and to their cultural, spiritual, social and economic wellbeing. It is also a vehicle for the intergenerational transfer of mātauranga (knowledge).

To learn more about the special relationship and role of mahinga kai to Ngāi Tahi, you can watch a series of short videos on Ngai Tahu's website here: https://ngaitahu.iwi.nz/culture/mahinga-kai/.

Economic wellbeing

Freshwater can help us make a living, and for many industries, it is an essential component. In Southland, our economy is almost completely reliant on the use of natural resources, particularly water. For primary industries, such as agriculture, it is relied on for irrigation purposes, stock watering, and cleaning 1. In New Zealand, we use freshwater for hydro-power operations that generate over half of New Zealand's total electricity supply while lakes and rivers are important for freshwater-based fisheries. Healthy waterways are also critically important economically for tourism, with a considerable amount of tourism activities happening in or next to freshwater bodies. In 2015, tourism was New Zealand's largest export industry. For the year ended March 2018, total tourism expenditure was $39.1 billion.

Environmental wellbeing

In a healthy freshwater ecosystem, you'll find a diverse mix of indigenous flora and fauna. Our streams, rivers, lakes, springs, wetlands and groundwater all provide habitats for a range of life. Various types of native invertebrates (animals without a backbone or bony skeleton, e.g. snails), fish, and birds live along or in our rivers and estuaries. They also host migratory birds who have travelled globally. Many rivers are important native fisheries' habitats, and even our groundwater resources contain life, often containing microorganisms and tiny animals known as stygofauna that live in the water in the spaces between the gravel and cobbles of aquifers.

Freshwater systems provide important services. Freshwater systems perform filtration, nutrient cycling (the movement and exchange of nutrients from organic and inorganic matter back into the production of living matter), flood control and carbon sequestration (a natural process by which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and held in solid or liquid form) functions.

The gift of water

We've talked to some people across Southland about what water gives to them. You can read more about what they said below.

  • Stewart Bull
    Stewart Bull
  • Otama School
    Otama School
  • Jane Milne
    Jane Milne

1 https://www.es.govt.nz/community/economy.