Freshwater for Life

New Zealand has a freshwater crisis and it’s getting worse. Decades of neglect and overuse have left our rivers, lakes and streams in a sorry state.

Healthy rivers are good for people and good for nature. We believe every New Zealander should have access to clean rivers and lakes where they can swim and gather food. And our aquatic species should thrive alongside them.

Next steps for freshwater

In March, the Government has released a discussion document setting out proposals to improve the management of freshwater in New Zealand.

We agree with much of the document but several proposals need to be changed before they become legislation or regulations. 

Over 3000 Forest & Bird supporters took action by making a submission to support our own submission on the issue.

What’s the problem with freshwater management in NZ?

More than half of our lowland lakes and rivers are now polluted, unsafe for people and the species they support.


Successive regional councils and governments have done a poor job of protecting our rivers and lakes from overuse. As a result, our waterways are polluted and many are unsafe for human contact.


The use of nitrogen fertiliser in New Zealand has increased by 800% over the past 20 years, raising the chemical load of freshwater ecosystems and killing our aquatic wildlife.

Nearly half of monitored lakes in New Zealand are so polluted by nutrients they are classed as eutrophic.

This leaves them green and murky, like a fish bowl that hasn’t been cleaned, which is not good.

Urban Growth

As our cities grow, so does the pollution entering our freshwater ecosystems.

When land is cleared to make way for new buildings and subdivisions, sediment is released into streams and rivers. The sediment can clog the stream or river bed, and high levels of nutrients are washed downstream to estuaries and out to sea.

In heavy rainfall, heavy metals and toxins from our roofs and off our roads are picked up in storm water and transported into freshwater bodies.