Water is critical for life to exist. People living in the Region enjoy a temperate climate, a large number of rivers, streams and lakes and an extensive groundwater system. The Region does not experience the severity of droughts that impact on some other parts of New Zealand and generally there is enough water to meet everyone’s needs. People have grown up with an expectation of access to clean, safe water. But ready access means that water has not always been valued highly. The health of the surface water resource has steadily declined in most catchments as a result.

Despite this decline, there has been a revolution around water in the past few decades. In response to public concerns, significant improvements have been made to the quality of discharges from towns and industrial sites*. For example, untreated sewage is no longer discharged directly into water bodies, and rivers no longer receive blood discharged from freezing works. Many former discharges to water, particularly discharges of dairy shed effluent, are now discharged to land. New large water takes, such as those associated with hydroelectric development, are carefully managed to ensure that the downstream needs of people and ecosystems are catered for. Although there have been substantial improvements in the quality of point source discharges to water, improvement is still possible and is necessary.

There has been a substantial intensification within the agricultural sector in recent years. This has contributed to a vibrant and booming regional economy but has also increased pressure on the Region’s water resources. There has been a significant increase in irrigation demand and the amount of nutrients leaching to surface water and groundwater. Although the impacts of agricultural intensification are less obvious than those caused by the major point source discharges and abstractions mentioned above, they have increased progressively over time.

As the Region has grown, we have significantly altered the physical nature of many of its water bodies and their beds with structures, drainage and flood protection works, particularly in the Manawatū Plains. These changes have led to a poor and declining state of physical health in the Region’s water bodies and their beds.

The impact of discharges and run-off on water quality and the increasing demand for water abstraction are two of the four most critical issues addressed in this Plan.