Keeping up community action to restore waterways


As parts of New Zealand still face a long recovery from a severe drought, it’s important now more than ever to stay focused on our water goals.

This week is World Water Week and for the first time it’s being run virtually. COVID-19 may have scuppered the usual conference in Sweden, but organisers have adapted to offer 120 free sessions online.

We think it’s important to help put water in the spotlight this week while recognising it’s the actions we take every week that really matter. 

We’re committed to playing our part in protecting and restoring New Zealand’s waterways, many of which are not in the condition we all want them to be.

We’re focusing on working with our farmers as well as the Government and local councils, scientists, iwi, and wider communities to achieve both healthy freshwater and a thriving agricultural economy in the future.

In New Zealand, we call it Kaitiakitanga, or guardianship. We’re bringing a regenerative mindset to our role as stewards of the environment, and taking concrete action to positively impact water quality, water use, soil health and biodiversity.

Here’s an update on some of the things we’re doing:

On the farm

Our farmers have been investing significant capital and effort in areas like excluding stock from waterways, upgrading effluent management systems and reducing run-off with riparian planting.

To further recognise farmers for producing high quality, sustainable milk, we’re introducing The Co-operative Difference payment.

We provide support in a number of ways including having a team of Sustainable Dairy Advisors helping to deliver tailored Farm Environment Plans.

These plans are sector leading and include time-bound actions to improve environmental outcomes. One third of our farmers now have one, and we’re aiming for 100% by 2025.

Other initiatives include a Plant for Good partnership, investing in science and innovation and providing all farms with a bespoke emissions profile by 2021.

In our operations

We’ve set new targets to reduce water use at our manufacturing sites in water-stressed regions. More than 3.4 billion litres of water will be saved every year based on these targets. We’re investing in advanced technology to make this happen. Lessons from our innovations at Darfield and Pahiatua are being shared with other sites.

With our communities 

We’re seven years into our 10-year Living Water partnership with the Department of Conservation, which has enabled us to test more than 30 tools and approaches to improve water quality. The trials in five catchments have included things like sediment traps, floating wetlands, and GIS data mapping tools. To date, nine solutions have been scaled or adopted by others. Based on the success of Living Water, we developed a wider Sustainable Catchments programme to support community action in catchments across the country.

Many of the results will only show over the long-term, but we’re seeing good signs already. Like in Canterbury, where we’re helping to protect the endangered kōwaro (mudfish). 

This work is all about building long-term, enduring relationships to help foster the national movement to restore waterways.