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River landscape
Credit or caption

Misty Gowan River rapids in cool foggy dawn. Sun rising over mountains - tributary of the Buller. Rotoroa, Tasman Dist., NZ Photo by Rob Suisted, Nature's Pic Images, Wellington, NEW ZEALAND. Photo copyright to Rob Suisted - All rights reserved.

Fresh water

We can't live without fresh water and neither can the fish, insects and plants that rely on clean water to survive and thrive. But our rivers and lakes are in crisis.

Make a donation to help our fresh water

Donate to defend our fresh water

Fresh water

Water is one of the most important issues for New Zealanders and yet our waterways are in crisis.

The state of our fresh water

  • 90 percent of our wetlands have been drained for farming and development
  • 74 percent of our freshwater fish are threatened with extinction
  • Many of our monitored rivers are unsafe for swimming
  • The number of dairy cows in New Zealand has risen by 69% nationally in the past two decades and by up to 500% in some regions such as Canterbury, Southland, and Nelson.

Our rivers, lakes, and streams are being polluted and too much water is being taken from them. The major driver of our freshwater crisis is intensive agriculture.

The situation is being made worse by climate change and increasing droughts, which reduce river flows and intensify the pollution.

For local communities, this means our favourite swimming holes are increasingly unsafe due to high bacterial levels, or toxic algal blooms.

But for our freshwater fish, insects and plants, their very survival is under threat.

Nature needs liveable rivers

We can't live without fresh water and neither can the fish, birds, insects and plants that rely on clean water to survive and thrive.

31 percent of our freshwater plants, 74 percent of our freshwater fish, and 34 percent of our freshwater invertebrates are at risk of extinction. 

Giant kokopu - adult

Adult giant kōkopu, one of the six whitebait species. Credit - Rod Morris

As wetlands are drained and streams are dried up, the species that rely on freshwater have fewer places to live. Increased run-off from agriculture and algal blooms are making many of our rivers and lakes toxic and stripping the oxygen that our freshwater species need to survive.

Forest & Bird is defending freshwater

  • We advocate for strong rules to protect our fresh water.
  • We hold regional councils to account, and defend our rivers and lakes in the courts.
  • We promote alternatives to environmentally damaging irrigation schemes.
  • Our branches are involved in practical work to restore our waterways.

We need your help. Join our fight for fresh water.

What we are doing

Take action! Help defend our Fresh water.

Nature needs your support

Supporting Forest & Bird is one of the best things you can do for New Zealand's environment. We need people like you to support us, so that nature will always have a voice.


Forest & Bird is defending nature across Aotearoa/New Zealand...