Water Quality Limits


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Parameters of water Values and uses of water Water quality limits Te Mana o te Wai Action for Healthy Waterways Water quality limits

Water quality reflects the state of water, evaluated by physical, chemical, and biological aspects. This page explores the parameters of water quality, its uses and values, and how to set quality limits. For instance, water values range from ecosystem health and recreational uses to economic considerations like hydro power. The page also introduces Te Mana o te Wai, an approach for freshwater's health and usage that guides policy development. Further, it discusses the 'Action for Healthy Waterways' initiative aiming to restore New Zealand's freshwater resources. Lastly, it emphasises community involvement in setting water quality limits.

Water quality is a description of the condition of the water. It includes measurements, using proven scientific methods, of physical, chemical and biological parameters.

There is no single definition for what is “good” or “bad” in terms of water quality. To determine what is good or bad we need to consider:

  • What are the parameters of water quality?
  • What is the water used or valued for?
  • When setting water quality limits both parameters and values are considered.

Parameters of water

Values and uses of water

In New Zealand water values typically include:

  • Ecosystem health and biodiversity
  • Cultural values including Mahinga kai (food gathering)
  • Recreational values including primary contact (swimming, water-skiing, kayaking) and secondary contact (fishing, tramping)
  • Amenity values such as landscape and scenic values
  • Health values including stock and human drinking water
  • Economic values such as irrigation water and hydro power generation

Not every water body has the same values. A farm drain which we value for its ability to remove water, does not have the same value as Lake Tekapo, which we value for its ability to create hydro-electricity and scenic views.

However, even farm drains have values and characteristics around drainage, biodiversity and mahinga kai that can be threatened by inappropriate land management.

Water quality limits

Water quality limits take into account both the values or use of the water and the parameters required for the values to occur.

A water quality limit is then set at a “point” (or number) that balances agreed community values with the significance of the impact on the values.

Te Mana o te Wai

The concept of Te Mana o te Wai reflects the recognition of freshwater as a natural resource whose health is integral to social cultural economic and environmental wellbeing. This will inform future policy development and regional freshwater planning.

Te Mana o te Wai is about a hierarchy of obligations:

  1. the first obligation is to protect the health and mauri of the water;
  2. the second obligation is to provide for essential human health needs, such as drinking water;
  3. the third obligation is to enable other consumptive use, provided that such use does not adversely impact the mauri of freshwater.

Te Mana o te Wai prioritises these principles:

  1. the dual roles of iwi/hapū and the Crown to develop and maintain decision-making processes for water, including mana whakahaere;
  2. kaitiakitanga and stewardship practices to sustain water; and
  3. manaakitanga and care and respect in providing for the health of our nation.

Find out more about Te Mana o te Wai here.

Action for Healthy Waterways

Action for Healthy Waterways introduces new rules and regulations to:

  • stop further degradation of New Zealand’s freshwater resources and improve water quality within five years
  • reverse past damage and bring New Zealand’s freshwater resources, waterways and ecosystems to a healthy state within a generation.

The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPS-FM) requires regional councils to have new plans in place no later than 2025.

How will the water quality limits be set?

Central government has made clear that they want to actively engage local communities, to determine which values to protect, what level of protection is needed and what timeframes.

Engagement and consultation mean that you and your community can play a pivotal role in protecting your waterways and farm systems.

Everyone in your community, including stakeholders with competing needs, will be able to sit down together and work out what is best for the catchment while satisfying the particular circumstances of local users.

Last updated: Sep 2023

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