Cows near waterway

Teaming up to improve New Zealand's freshwater

Partnerships – With Descriptor

The Living Water partnership is approaching its final years, here’s some of the highlights, trials and projects in progress to accelerate action to improve freshwater management across New Zealand.

A partnership with a common vision of dairy and freshwater thriving together

Living Water encourages farmers in our catchments to work alongside Department of Conservation Rangers and Fonterra Sustainable Dairy Advisors to trial or implement practical solutions to improve freshwater. Progress on this has been steady with:

  • 68% of Fonterra farmers engaged in Living Water catchments - up 9% from 2019, this means they have been involved in catchment meetings and/or have a Farm Environment Plan.
  • 40% of Fonterra farmers implementing improvement actions above regulation - up 4% from 2019. This means they have implemented actions outlined on their Farm Environment Plan directly relating to freshwater.

Fonterra Head of Environmental Partnerships, Trish Kirkland-Smith started in the partnership in 2016 as the National Manager, then moved to Fonterra in 2018 where she remained heavily involved with the partnership as a member of the Steering Committee, a group of seven directors across both organisations who oversee the work of the partnership.  “There’s been a steady increase of Fonterra farmers engaging in Living Water catchments – 53% in 2018, 59% in 2019 and 68% in 2020. That’s the percentage of farmers within the five catchments who have attended Living Water meetings and/or have a Farm Environment Plan (FEP).” 

By the end of the partnership Living Water aims to show what working together looks like and can achieve; to identify what capability, capacity and support is required to do this across New Zealand; and to calculate the costs to farmers, communities and the agricultural industry can plan for future investment.

Trish Kirkland-Smith

Trish Kirkland-Smith

Former LW National Manager

There’s been a steady increase of Fonterra farmers engaging in Living Water catchments – 53% in 2018, 59% in 2019 and 68% in 2020. That’s the percentage of farmers within the five catchments who have attended Living Water meetings and/or have a Farm Environment Plan (FEP)

Trish Kirkland-Smith, Fonterra Head of Environmental Partnerships

Our why

Designing and trialling freshwater solutions in five catchments

Living Water now has 60 projects underway or completed, and 34 tools and approaches trialled around New Zealand see them all here. The focus has been on testing mitigations to reduce contaminants, improve waterway health and recognise cultural values, while avoiding significant disruption to farm systems. This will give farmers an assurance the tools we recommend go some way to reducing their farming footprint and target the right problem in the right place with the most effective tool. Living Water is also beginning to look at how to lower the cost of implementing these tools and achieve environmental outcomes at a catchment-wide scale.

Some of the trials include:

  • Construction is underway at four sites in Waituna to build Peak Run-Off Control Structures to test their function at slowing water flow and allowing sediment and nutrients to drop out. Once we know how effective these structures are, more locations have been strategically identified to build structures to test catchment-wide benefits.
  • Working with a commercial provider and the Western Firth Catchment Group in the Pūkorokoro-Miranda catchment to develop a cost-effective prioritisation tool to help catchment communities identify effective tools and where to place them in the landscape to get the best result. Tools (such as planting poplar poles, native trees and installing sediment detention bunds) and actions identified through Farm Environment Plans are now being implemented by landowners in the catchment. Read the catchment group’s story here.
  • A range of on-farm ‘edge of field’ tools including floating wetlands, sediment traps, nitrogen and phosphorus filters.
  • An alternative method of applying nitrogen (urea) fertiliser called fine particle application which aims to achieve the same grass production with less fertiliser application. The spreading method is also more accurate which means fertiliser is not sprayed into waterways. 

Living Water now has 60 projects underway or completed, and 34 tools and approaches trialed around New Zealand

Waituna Creek fish survey

Championing change to mindsets, approaches, systems and aspirations to accelerate freshwater management:

By working together to drive change and making purposeful connections with farmers, scientists, mana whenua, councils and communities to work on the challenge together, we want to help lead the way from ‘business as usual’ mindsets to progressive thinking that will help serve our future.

“It means working alongside communities in five selected catchments to test different tools, approaches and ways of working that will help improve water quality and freshwater environments. Then it’s about gathering results and developing plans to implement the best solutions regionally and nationally” explains Kirkland-Smith

Together we can change the way we think about the challenge, change how we work together to solve problems, and change how we implement solutions and that is a big part of the lessons we are learning through the Living Water Partnership.  Examples of approaching problems in a different way include:

  • Transforming drains to waterways in the Te Waihora/Lake Ellsemere catchment in Canterbury. We have done some small-scale trials to manage drains in a way that is less destructive to the ecology and put habitat features back into streams. This approach is an alternative to the common practice of drain clearance with diggers to remove aquatic plant material and built up sediment and maintain drainage. These classified drains across the country are often the only remaining places for our freshwater species to live. We hope to build on this mahi in the last three years by working with iwi and Selwyn District Council to fundamentally redesign how the whole drainage network is managed. 
  • Supported the establishment of the community-based Tiaki Repo ki Pūkorokoro Trust that will be responsible for managing the restoration of the 19.6 ha Reserve in Pūkorokoro-Miranda, purchased by the Crown in 2018. This has increased the habitat available in this internationally significant location for shorebirds. The Trust is now working on land use solutions that benefit both the environment and sustainable farming, to reduce contaminants from waterways entering the Firth of Thames.
  • Every month members of Ngā Kaitiaki o Ngā Wai Māori head out in Wairua, Northland with Living Water staff to carry out water quality monitoring. Recently iwi members also completed their electric fishing qualifications, allowing them to supplement this monitoring with health, size and numbers of fish species living in the waterways. The aim is for members to be able to continue this important mahi into the future, building the capability of the hapu to be directly involved in improving outcomes for freshwater.

The partnership’s vision is to see the effective tools used across the country as well as a change in the way we farm. To achieve this vision we’ve created partnerships because no single organisation or sector has all the skills, knowledge and influence to improve freshwater and we know it requires more than just on-farm action.  By partnering we are making it easier for farmers, iwi and communities to accelerate freshwater improvement across the country.

Transforming drains to streams

The partnership’s vision is to see the effective tools used across the country as well as a change in the way we farm

Working with iwi
Nicki in a stream Ararira