Our freshwater 2020 is the latest in a series of environmental reports produced by the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ.

It provides more indepth information about how the issues highlighted in Environment Aotearoa 2019 (our most recent report on the state of the environment as a whole) relate to freshwater, and presents new data and insights (see table 1).

Freshwater is a whole interconnected system but for clarity, this report explores the most significant pressures on the freshwater environment through four priority issues. Each issue explores the critical components and variables in our water catchments and how they relate to what we have, what we are at risk of losing, and where we can make change.

Our freshwater 2020 explores:

  • Issue 1: Our native freshwater species and ecosystems are under threat.
  • Issue 2: Water is polluted in urban, farming, and forestry areas.
  • Issue 3: Changing water flows affect our freshwater.
  • Issue 4: Climate change is affecting freshwater in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The report begins with an introduction Stepping into freshwater, which talks about what freshwater means to us and how individual issues can interact and have cumulative effects. A summary is provided at the start of each of the four issues. Later, Towards a better understanding of our environment discusses the most significant knowledge gaps and how they could be addressed. This knowledge would improve our ability to respond to the issues identified here.

Table 1: How issues covered in this report relate to the themes and issues identified in Environment Aotearoa 2019

Environment Aotearoa 2019 identified nine priority environmental issues across five themes. Our freshwater 2020 covers four priority environmental issues for freshwater.
Theme Issue Issue New data and insights since Environment Aotearoa 2019
1. Our ecosystems and biodiversity 1. Our native plants, animals, and ecosystems are under threat 1. Our native freshwater species and ecosystems are under threat
  • Conservation status of indigenous freshwater species
  • Deposited sediment in rivers
  • Freshwater fish index of biotic integrity
  • Lake submerged plant index
  • Modelled lake water quality
  • Freshwater physical habitats
  • Measuring ecosystem health
2. How we use our lands 2. Changes to the vegetation on our land are degrading the soil and water 2. Water is polluted in urban, farming, and forestry areas
  • Deposited sediment in rivers
  • Groundwater quality trends
  • River water quality: heavy metals
  • Modelled lake water quality
  • Emerging contaminants (including PFAS and pesticides)
3. Urban growth is reducing versatile land and native biodiversity
3. Pollution from our activities 4. Our waterways are polluted in farming areas
5. Our environment is polluted in urban areas
4. How we use our freshwater and marine resources 6. Taking water changes flows which affects our ecosystems 3. Changing water flows affect our freshwater
  • Barriers to fish passage
  • Consented freshwater allocation
  • Using aquifers to manage water supply and quality issues
7. The way we fish is affecting the health of our ocean environment
5. Our changing climate 8. New Zealand has high greenhouse gas emissions per person  
4. Climate change is affecting freshwater in Aotearoa New Zealand
  • Freshwater ecosystems
  • Projected impacts of climate change on freshwater flows
  • How climate change can affect water mixing in lakes
9. Climate change is already affecting Aotearoa New Zealand

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