Celebrating nine years of the Living Water partnership


We’ve recently reached the milestone of nine years since we started working with the Department of Conservation (DOC) through the Living Water partnership, which helps us identify and trial game-changing and scalable solutions that show dairying and freshwater can thrive together. 

While we’ve already made some incredible gains, there are more to come.

Launched in 2013, the 10-year partnership with DOC was built with a focus on driving change and finding solutions to improve freshwater ecosystems and increase biodiversity in agricultural landscapes.

We’ve been working together with communities, farmers, scientists, and mana whenua in five selected catchments, reaching a total coverage of 35,000ha of land (that’s a bigger area of land than the entire nation of Malta)!

The five catchments include: Wairua River, Northland; Pūkorokoro-Miranda, Hauraki; Lakes Areare, Ruatuna and Rotomānuka, Waikato; Ararira River, Canterbury; and Awarua–Waituna Lagoon, Southland. We’ve chosen very different types of catchments for our partnership so we can trial different solutions and learn what works and what doesn’t in different parts of the country.

To celebrate, here are nine milestones from the past nine years from the latest progress update:

1. 72% of Fonterra farmers in these catchments are engaged in Living Water

Living Water has now developed Farm Environment Plans for 72% of Fonterra farmers across the five catchments, an increase from 68% in 2020. That compares to 53% of farmers with FEPs nationally. The Farm Environment Plans include actions to improve freshwater quality that are specifically tailored to the needs of the catchment the farm is located in.

By partnering together and using our unique strengths, we can accelerate freshwater improvement for Aotearoa New Zealand.

2. 48% of Fonterra farmers are implementing further improvement actions

These steps demonstrated by Fonterra farmers go above and beyond current regulation to improve water quality. Farmers’ actions include riparian planting, installing sediment traps and treatment devices, improving fish habitat, and protecting and enhancing wetlands. Not only has this statistic increased from 8% last year, but the hard work carrying out these actions across multiple farms has significantly accelerated freshwater improvements in each catchment.

3. 36 trials are currently underway or completed

Living Water is trialling various tools and approaches that can be scaled up to help improve freshwater across Aotearoa. These include on-farm tools, catchment-based solutions, and addressing implementation barriers including funding, consenting, capability and waterway management.

An on-farm example is a woodchip bioreactor to reduce ntirates that’s being trialled for the Ararira River in Canterbury. If successful, in-stream tools like this could be used in key areas around the country.

Department of Conservation and Farm Source members working together.

4. 64 broader projects are underway or completed

Catchment scale projects, like the Waituna physiographics project (physiographics is a sophisticated mapping tool), have shown us where to place interventions within catchments to enable them to be most effective. The locations of the peak run-off control structures being trialled in Waituna were directed by the results of the physiographics project, as well as identifying the most suitable locations to construct large-scale wetlands.

In Pūkorokoro-Miranda, the Catchment Condition Survey and CAPTure tool helped provide similar information, allowing the Western Firth Catchment Group to work together on planting steep banks where erosion has been causing sediment in a main waterway.

5. Nine successful solutions have been scaled to other sites or used by others.

Our trials have allowed the partnership to explore how to lower the cost of implementing different tools and solutions and how to achieve environmental outcomes at a catchment-wide scale.

Living Water has also completed 10 case studies about the completed trials or projects, including floating wetlands, nitrogen and phosphorous filters, the CAPTure tool and more.

Ada Te Huia, Ngati Apakura, Rama Kete (Ngati Apakura), Penney Cameron and Rose Graham, DOC translocating harakeke.

6. 52 partnerships are currently in place

Over the past nine years, the Living Water collaboration has assisted the development of 52 strong partnerships across Aotearoa.

Partnerships are important because we know that no single organisation or sector has all the skills, knowledge or influence to improve freshwater and we know it requires more than just on-farm action. By partnering we’re making it easier for farmers, iwi and communities to accelerate freshwater improvement.

One example is the partnership between DOC and the Department of Corrections through ‘Good to Grow’, which helps to rehabilitate offenders by giving them the opportunity to connect with land. Some of the work includes removing pest plants, improving amenity blocks, and creating walking tracks in the Waikato Peak Lakes area.

That work is helping the local Ngāti Apakura iwi to plant its Pā harakeke/Rongoā (traditional Maori medicine) garden and Nature Education Trail at Lake Ruatuna. Different varieties of flax (harakeke) are being planted with the intention of them being used for traditional weaving, along with rongoā plant species significant in Māori medicine.

Another partnership with Ngā Kaitiaki O Ngā Wai Māori has also planted over 35,000 trees in the Upper Wairua catchment

7. 10 projects are directly building iwi and hapū capacity and capability as kaitiaki

Ten of our projects are directly building iwi and hapū capacity and capability as kaitiaki (guardians) for freshwater. One of these is our work with Ngā Kaitiaki O Ngā Wai Māori for the Wairua River, Northland, who, for two years volunteered alongside Living Water staff doing the monthly water quality monitoring run to learn the methodology. They’re now paid to carry out the monitoring and undertake a twice-yearly fish survey within the catchment – creating employment opportunities.

Ngā Kaitiaki O Ngā Wai Māori completing a fish survey in the Wairua catchment

8. Nearly 2,000 social media followers

Project updates, lessons learned, and news are all shared across the Living Water social media accounts. Living Water now has 1973 followers to date, with an increase of over 400 followers in the last year alone. If you’re looking to keep updated with the latest from Living Water, follow their Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, or head to Living Waters’ website.

The future of farming will be different and we’re working together to find out what this could mean for farming and freshwater. By partnering together and using our unique strengths, we can accelerate freshwater improvement for Aotearoa New Zealand.