groundwater assessment equipment

Achieving the community’s water goals is a long-term game — particularly when it comes to groundwater, when change isn’t immediately visible. We need to bear this in mind when we set targets and assess progress against them.

The Canterbury Water Management Strategy provides a collaborative framework to help manage multiple demands on our precious water resource. It sets water management targets for 2015, 2020 and 2040. In 2019 water management targets for 2025 and 2030 were added. Read the Canterbury Water Management Strategy - Targets and Goals (PDF File, 956.83KB)

You can read a summary of progress against 2019 targets below. The targets are regional rather than zone-based and cover 10 broad areas. The summary is based on the Canterbury Water Management Strategy Targets Report 2019 (PDF File, 3.73MB)

Summary of progress against targets

Environmental limits
Environmental flows and catchment load limits

The Collaborative process is at the heart of the CWMS. It empowers communities to make their own decisions about how best to meet agreed, region wide and local targets.

Through the CWMS, the process of setting Environmental Limits (including environmental flows, allocation limits and nutrient loads) provides an opportunity for the community to take local ownership of water management, and to work together through complex information, to reach decisions around priority outcomes and values.

Zone Committees and communities are working collaboratively through the Resource Management Act (RMA) plan development timetable.

This intensive process transfers the priority outcomes and values into resource management plans, supports Environment Canterbury to meet its statutory responsibilities, and achieves sustainable management of the region’s water and land resources and aligns the planning framework to CWMS targets.

Read the Environmental flows and catchment load limits targets report (PDF File, 306.07KB).

Ecosystem health and biodiversity
Freshwater species and their habitat

Freshwater environments and their inhabitants have considerable ecological and cultural value.

Several of our native freshwater species are in decline, or are nationally threatened and other introduced species are of significant value to recreational fisheries but can pose a threat to native freshwater fish.

A regional habitat restoration programme is underway and takes a catchment-based approach to restoring the habitat of freshwater fish species.

Read the Freshwater species and their habitat targets report.


Wetlands, riparian margins and other areas of indigenous vegetation create habitats for indigenous fauna and have important natural character values. In Canterbury, less than 10 per cent of the region’s previously-extensive freshwater natural wetlands remain.

Drivers of change, particularly wetland loss since European settlement, include drainage, diversion of water, infilling, reclamation, urban development, flooding, fire, vegetation clearance, cultivation, grazing and spread of introduced species.

The mapping of the wetlands, and wetland projects helps us paint a picture of where remaining wetlands are, whether they are protected and identification of gaps to be filled.

Planning provisions that protect the biodiversity values of natural wetlands are critical and are included in Canterbury’s regional policy statement and plans.

The Canterbury Land and Water Regional Plan (LWRP) requires the protection and maintenance of wetlands that contribute to cultural and community values, biodiversity, water quality, mahinga kai, water cleansing and flood mitigation.

Read the Wetlands target report.


Drylands are unique ecosystems that provide habitat for rare and threatened species. Presently only around 3% (60,000ha) of dryland ecosystems in Canterbury are protected.

Projects for protection and restoration are underway. Priority needs to be given to effective planning and regulatory mechanisms to ensure no further loss of remaining dryland biodiversity.

Read the Drylands targets report.

Hāpua, lagoons and estuaries

Hāpua, lagoons and estuaries are examples of coastal aquatic environments where the mix of coastal, surface water and groundwater systems produces an often dynamic environment from freshwater through to brackish and saline conditions.

These areas provide an important habitat for a diverse array of native plant and animal species including mahinga kai species such as tuangi (cockles), pipi which is endemic to New Zealand, harakeke (flax), and tuna (eel).

They also provide important nursery and spawning grounds for marine and freshwater fish species such as īnanga (whitebait), tuna (eel), pātiki (flounder) and margin habitats for the kowaro (Canterbury mudfish). Examples in Canterbury include hāpua river mouth lagoons such as the Rakaia and Ashburton river mouths, Waituna type lagoons or coastal lakes such as Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere and Wainono Lagoon, tidal estuaries such as the Avon-Heathcote/Ihutai or freshwater river mouths such as the Clarence River.

Te Waihora is one of New Zealand’s most important wetlands and is internationally significant for its abundance and diversity of wildlife.

Te Waihora is a tribal taonga, central to Ngāi Tahu culture, and is valued for its recreation and cultural worth, and unique ecological value.

There are many active organisations and agencies involved in work to protect, restore and enhance the lake.  

Whakaora Te Waihora is a joint programme of work between Environment Canterbury, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, and the Ministry for the Environment to restore Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere.

The Te Waihora Joint Management Plan — Mahere Tukutahi o Te Waihora — is a joint land management plan between the Crown and Iwi for integrated management of the Selwyn Waihora catchment.

Read the Hāpua, lagoons and estuaries target report.

Lowland streams and lakes

Lowland streams and rivers have lower ecosystem health and habitat quality than those in the high country as they are impacted by multiple stressors.

These include low flows, habitat degradation and declines in water quality due to diffuse discharges of agricultural and urban contaminants.

Land use is of greater intensity in the flatter low country.

Contaminants accumulate in groundwater, which re-emerges in lowland streams.

Spring-fed streams tend to meander through farms and urban areas, and are susceptible to both localised and diffuse contaminant sources.

Actions are underway at numerous sites, catchment-wide, to effect change in land use management that will support all waterways.

Read the Lowland streams and lakes target report.

High country and foothill streams and lakes

Water quality in the high country is variable among river types, predominantly influenced by sediment inputs and associated contaminants from overland run-off and stock access.

Aquatic ecosystem health and water quality is typically higher than in lowland streams, particularly for streams that receive a large volume of flow from higher up in the catchment.  

Spring-fed streams in the high country are particularly vulnerable to habitat degradation and siltation through stock access, upwelling of groundwater and associated contaminants or runoff from intensive land use.

Hill-fed streams may be hampered by inflowing spring-fed tributaries or fluxes of contaminant sources during high flows.

Alpine and hill sourced rivers are generally less impacted by contamination sources due to a large volume of flow originating high up in the catchment.

Read the High country and foothill streams and lakes target report.

Understanding emergent contaminant risks

Managing emerging contaminants is fundamental to ensuring safe drinking water.  

District health boards, Environment Canterbury, territorial authorities and water suppliers are conducting ongoing monitoring and reporting, are implementing and enforcing catchment load limits and are working with communities to improve water quality.

Read the Understanding emergent contaminant risks target report.

Environmental flows

Identified areas where catchment load limits for nutrients are not met, prioritised areas and implemented actions to ensure there is no further enrichment.

Demonstrated, and included in implementation programmes, how land within the zone will be managed to achieve catchment load limits.

Achieved nutrient efficiency targets for the zone on all new irrigated land and 50 per cent of other rural properties (and of properties within urban boundaries that apply nutrients over significant areas).

Natural character of braided rivers
Braided river character
Braided rivers are iconic features of the Canterbury landscape.
The braided river floodplain, or braidplain, comprises both the active channels, less recently disturbed islands and lateral areas with more mature vegetation.
The active riverbed includes the network of braided channels, islands and river margins that are inundated during flood events.
There are a number of programmes underway to assist with maintenance of the braided rivers.
Read the Braided river character target report.
Ecosystems, habitats and species/riparian wetlands, springs and lagoons

Braided rivers are a distinctive feature of New Zealand’s eastern South Island and have considerable biodiversity value.  

The braided rivers are characterised by ever-changing channels which are home to many species of birds, fish, invertebrates and plants that have adapted to live in this challenging and dynamic environment.

Rare native birds such as wrybill, black-billed gull and black-fronted tern depend on braided rivers for their survival, but they are increasingly under threat.

The riverbeds, riparian margins, floodplains and associated wetlands and springs support many of the region's endangered and rare species.

Read the Ecosystems, habitats and species/riparian wetlands, springs and lagoons target report.

 Marae water supply

Ensuring good quality drinking water at marae is an important Kaitiakitanga target. Looking after visitors/manaakitanga includes ensuring a safe drinking water supply.  

Previously this target has been measured by compliance with the drinking water standards.  

This has proved to be a complicated measure as the standards include criteria that are unrelated to the quality of the water and so a rating of 'non-compliant' can be misleading.

The targets will now be measured using indicators more closely related to the quality/ quantity of the water bodies used as the drinking water supply.

Read the Marae water supply target report.

Working together in partnership

Since signing the Tuia Relationship Agreement between Ngā Papatipu Rūnanga and Environment Canterbury in December 2012, the nature and extent of the relationship continues to grow and develop.

Investing in the relationship by bringing capacity and capability to bear, ensures all parties continue to move closer to achieving partnership in the management of the region’s natural, physical and freshwater resources.

The cultural values return, from mana whenua engagement and participation in the CWMS collaborative process, will continue to be challenged by the inevitably slow and incremental pace of any real or tangible improvement at the flax roots level in terms of mahinga kai and customary use.

Read the Working together in partnership target report.

Wāhi taonga and mahinga kai

Kaitiakitanga is about the active protection, sustainable use and responsibility for freshwater bodies and their related natural and physical resources by tangatawhenua.  

Active participation of Papatipu Rūnanga in CWMS activities and decision-making is pivotal to success.  

Iwi Management Plans, co-governance of environmental resources and restoration of mahinga kai and wāhi taonga are pioneering examples of shared governance and management responsibilities between Ngāi Tahu and Environment Canterbury.

Read the Wāhi taonga and mahinga kai target report.

Drinking water
Source water quality

The quality and quantity of drinking-water supplies depends on the management of point sources and non-point sources of contaminants in drinking water supply catchments and aquifers, land-use in the catchment and/or recharge area, and on the treatment provided by the local authority.

Actions to protect drinking water differ for groundwater from a secure source and surface water sources.  

The percentage of the region’s population with access to safe drinking-water is high, but there are numerous smaller water supplies, supplying smaller communities, that are non-compliant.

Read the Source water quality target report.

Catchment nutrient load

Intensification of land use has necessitated the need to set catchment loads, limiting the amount of nitrate and phosphate that can be leached or discharged from farmland.

Environment Canterbury continues to monitor water surface quality and groundwater flows to improve understanding of risks to drinking and recreational water quality and make this information publicly available.

Work continues with water supply and health authorities and CWMS committees to meet a range of outcomes including the CWMS drinking water targets. 

Read the Catchment nutrient load target report.

Recreational and amenity opportunities
Water-based recreational opportunities

Canterbury’s rivers and lakes are highly prized for recreation and used throughout the year by locals and visitors. Recreational and amenity opportunities provide social, cultural, health and economic benefits.

CWMS Zone Committees have identified actions and desired outcomes for recreational opportunities and information is being gathered to advance work programmes to support recreation targets.

Read the Water-based recreational opportunities target report.

Recreational water flows

Different recreational activities, interests, and users require different water flows at different times.

Some require a wilderness experience; others need white-water conditions or safer flows and tranquil places.

Most rivers and streams in Canterbury are at, or near, full allocation for reliable ‘run-of-river’ takes.

Read the Recreational water flows target report.

Freshwater angling

Freshwater angling is a popular recreational activity in Canterbury rivers with brown trout, rainbow trout and Chinook salmon a sought-after catch.  

The Rakaia River is one of the best salmon fisheries in New Zealand and the upper reaches are set amidst spectacular scenery.

Lake Coleridge is a large, exposed high country lake that is heavily fished for its landlocked Chinook salmon.

Both the Waiau River and the Hurunui River have some of the most productive reaches of trout fishing in New Zealand and are popular for their seasonal sea run salmon.

The Waimakariri River is an excellent trout and salmon fishery in close proximity to Christchurch.

Canterbury high country lakes provide fishing in a remote and uniquely scenic environment.

Smaller, localised fisheries also exist for other introduced salmonids.

Read the Freshwater angling target report.

Recreational water quality

The recreational water quality monitoring programme follows the national guidelines for marine and freshwater recreational areas, assessing the microbiological quality of water bodies and associated health risks to water users.

Monitoring is conducted in the summer seasons at popular river and lake bathing sites throughout Canterbury. 

Read the Recreational water quality targets report.

Water use efficiency
Best practice and benchmarking

In Canterbury, irrigation complements variable rainfall. Careful water application boosts productivity while minimising drainage and water abstracted from aquifers.  

Minimising drainage helps to minimise nutrient losses as required by regional planning rules across Canterbury.  

Investment by farmers in modern overhead spray systems has displaced less efficient surface methods.

Region wide benchmarks for water use, based on water metering data, are now beginning to inform policy rather than volumes historically allocated or consented.  

Improvements in application methods and irrigation systems are being driven by Irrigation schemes, Irrigation New Zealand, Industry sector organisations using industry led applied research, practical field programmes and irrigation efficiency testing on-farm.

Read the Best practice and benchmarking target report.

Irrigated land area
Land area and reliability

The CWMS sets an indicative outcome for 2040 of at least 95% reliability of water supply. Increasing irrigated area and reliability requires progress to be made in water management at farm and scheme levels.

This includes developing cooperative arrangements between the various water management interests, adopting improved management systems, improving the operation of existing infrastructure and the development and reliability capacity (storage) within these systems.  

Methods being used include the piping of formerly leaky unlined earth canals and the use of small and medium scale storage as well as improved methods for operating existing large scale storages.

Efficient on farm water use results in water storage being able to supply reliability to larger irrigated areas.

More land benefitting from irrigation, both directly and indirectly through mixed irrigation and dryland farming systems, builds resilience into the local economy making it less susceptible to both long-term climate change and short term dry spells, while widening the range of land use options.

Read the Land area and reliability target report.


The CWMS identifies infrastructure as a means to contribute to all CWMS target areas, not just the supply of water for irrigation and hydro-electricity.

Infrastructure can also address future-proofing issues such as ecosystem support in a changing climate and water quality management through enhanced reliability and distribution efficiency.

While the CWMS is a collaborative process involving all councils across Canterbury, infrastructure development is based on cooperation and coordination, while recognising the commercial goals of the parties involved.

Infrastructure options are being considered and progressed with a vision for an integrated water infrastructure across Canterbury.

Read the Infrastructure target report.

Energy security and efficiency

Canterbury’s high country lakes provide a largely natural water storage capacity that can act as an enabler for other renewable generation technologies, such as wind, which rely on the generation from hydro storage being available on demand.

Electricity generation is generally, but not always, a non-consumptive use, making it highly complementary to irrigation.

Investigating hydro power options, particularly where they have additional benefits or dual use of the water (e.g. in combination with farm irrigation) is encouraged.

New infrastructure options must include consideration for hydro-electric power generation and where possible, feature design that utilises the landscape to convey water under pressure.

This can minimise the need for pumping and, as a result, can improve energy efficiency.

Read the Energy security and efficiency target report.

Indicators of regional and national economies
Added-value from water

Indicators for Regional Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employment growth are readily available, regularly updated and show positive trends.

However, direct measures of the ‘value added’ impact of water on the regional economy are not yet readily available.

Read the Added-value from water target report.

Externalities and opportunity costs

The opportunity cost is the value of something that is forgone in order to achieve something else. In resource management this is the value that is lost by pursuing one use of a resource at the expense of a possible alternative use.  

All resources can have an alternative use, which means that every action has an associated opportunity cost.

An externality arises if the activity of one person is affecting another person without compensation. An adverse effect is called a negative externality and a beneficial effect is known as a positive externality.

The discharge of nutrients from farmland can end up in water bodies which then contributes to declining water quality.

This can have negative impacts on the users of water bodies (e.g. use for drinking water or recreational activities) which is an example of a negative externality.

Read the Externalities and opportunity costs target report.