Video transcript: Our water management reports

Transcript for a video about the reports we published as part of our water management work programme.

Title: Controller and Auditor-General logo

Title: Our water management reports

Te wai. Water. It’s important to New Zealanders.

We expect the water from our taps to be clean and safe, wastewater and stormwater to not pollute the environment, and our rivers, lakes, and oceans to be healthy ecosystems that are safe to swim in and to gather kai moana. Failing to meet these expectations can cause lasting damage to the public’s trust and confidence in the public sector. That trust and confidence is important to us.

We’ve recently finished two years’ worth of work looking at water management. We picked topics from how councils manage the rainfall when it’s heavy and could cause flooding, to how they know how much water farmers are using for irrigation, to how different groups come together to formally protect our marine environments.

Our stormwater report describes how three councils didn’t really know enough about the state of their stormwater systems, and their risk of flooding. That matters, because it makes a difference to how well protected communities are from flooding. Different levels of protection will come at different costs, so communities need to get involved and find what their council already knows about flood risks and what their council’s plans are.

Our drinking water report describes how the councils we looked at were managing the supply and demand for drinking water. Did you know that for many councils, up to a quarter of the water can be lost through leaking pipes? Managing supply and demand are equally important, so the councils doing both are better placed to respond to future challenges like climate change, or population growth.

Our freshwater quality report describes how four councils are managing the quality of water in their regions. Each council takes what it considers is the right approach, measuring water quality differently for different reasons. Because they measure differently, their data can’t easily be compared – which means it’s not possible to get a detailed, nationwide, picture of the changing state of the water in New Zealand’s rivers, lakes, and streams. Without that clear picture, it’s hard for central government agencies to know where to put the most effort to help improve freshwater quality.

Our freshwater clean-up report looked at how projects to clean lakes and rivers were funded. The processes are sound enough – but there isn’t a national framework to guide where the funding goes, and no national goals to support funding the most important projects first.

Our irrigation report describes how councils were usually good at checking the amount of water users were taking, but the data they were collecting could be improved. With better and timely data, councils can encourage water users to be more efficient and keep communities informed about trends in water use. This matters, because a huge amount of the country’s water is used for irrigation.

Our Hauraki Gulf report looked at how a plan came together to share that waterway. The plan was trying to find a way to balance the needs of everyone using the waterway, whether for fishing, or tourism, or gathering kai moana, while still protecting the marine area.

In many ways, the plan is a successful example of a collaborative approach, but the resulting plan was difficult to implement easily. Our marine reserves report describes how well two different projects went about trying to set up protected marine areas – one near Dunedin and the other at Kaikōura.

New Zealand has 44 marine reserves – they cover just 0.4% of the sea area around the main islands. There’s so few reserves because setting them up isn’t easy – it’s fraught with tension and usually takes a long time. We concluded that the legislation and policy need to offer a more flexible way to balance people’s different views and values.

We wrapped up what all these reports told us in one report for Parliament. In summary, what’s needed is stronger leadership – to get everyone to a shared vision for our water resources and have a plan for making that happen. New Zealand needs a step up in how water resources are managed.

For more information about these reports and our other work, go to 

Watch the original video.