The demand on surface water and groundwater resources is one of the most critical issues addressed in this Plan.

Water from the two main fresh water sources within the Region - surface water (rivers and lakes) and groundwater - is abstracted for a variety of uses, including drinking water supply, stock water supply, irrigation, electricity generation and industrial use.

The single largest user of water in the Region is the energy sector. Hydroelectric power generation takes are concentrated around Mount Ruapehu and on the Mangahao River. The amount of water used for power generation has not changed significantly in the past decade, although there is potential for more hydroelectricity generation in the future.

In contrast, with the exception of consented water supply abstraction from surface water, other uses have steadily increased over the past few decades in response to stock numbers increasing and the establishment of industrial plants. In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in water demand. From 1997 to 2009, consented groundwater takes almost doubled and consented surface water takes more than doubled (Table 5.1).

Table 5.1 Change in Consented Water Abstraction Volumes from 1997 to 2009 (excluding hydroelectric power generation)
1997 to 2009 Percentage Change in Consented Water Takes
Source Sector 1997 (m3/d) 2009 (m3/d) Increase (%)
Groundwater All Sectors 287,000 537,179 +85%
Surface water Agriculture 70,668 385,579 +446%
Industry 38,835 97,782 +152%
Water supply 162,024 133,259 -18%
All Sectors 271,527 616,620 +127%

The greater the amount of water taken from a water body, the greater the potential impact on instream life, recreational activities (including fishing, swimming and boating), cultural/spiritual values and the ability of the water body and its bed to assimilate waste*. As important as the volume of water abstracted is the timing of abstraction. Rivers in the Region experience natural low flows during summer, which coincides with the period of greatest demand. The taking of water during higher flows generally has little impact, but even small takes during summer low flow conditions can have adverse effects. Measures which avoid those effects during the more critical summer low flow conditions should be encouraged. Maintaining natural flow variability is important for the habitat requirements of fish species, natural character and water quality. The ever-increasing demand on the Region’s surface water resource means that it must be used efficiently, so that the amount of water allocated for abstraction is available to as many users as possible.

Groundwater monitoring indicates that groundwater levels are stable and research indicates that there is sufficient water for all users at a regional scale. A recent increase in large groundwater takes along the west coast has raised the potential for saltwater intrusion. This occurs when enough water is removed from an aquifer to allow seawater to migrate inland. Groundwater contaminated with saltwater is no longer suitable for irrigation or as stock water. Saltwater- contaminated groundwater will clear with time, but the timescale is measured in centuries.

The high density of bores* in some areas has caused localised problems. These include:
  1. impacts on other groundwater users. Allowing too many new users to access the groundwater resource will impact on the amount that is available to existing users and can affect the ability of existing bores* to draw water.
  2. impacts on groundwater-fed streams, lakes and wetlands. Many of the streams, lakes and wetlands along the west coast of the Region (eg., Lakes Papaitonga and Horowhenua) are dependent upon groundwater. Groundwater is particularly important during summer, as it may be the only source of inflow.
Bores* are the main means of accessing groundwater resources. They provide the principal way of studying the subsurface environment by enabling sampling of subsurface geology, allowing direct measurement of groundwater levels and quality and allowing testing of aquifer yields. This Plan adopts the NZS 4411:2001 Environmental Standard for Drilling of Soil and Rock in its entirety for the management of bores* (design, drilling, completion, development, testing, maintenance*, cleaning/disinfection, record keeping and decommissioning).