2013 River Awards

The 2013 New Zealand River Awards were held on 28 November in Wellington.

Regional Awards were given to 9 rivers. These were the most significantly improved river in each region (nine out of the 16 regions had at least one significantly improved  river).

Otara Creek, Auckland (3.3%) Surrounded by urban developments, frequently used as a rubbish tip and for a long time, the subject of resident outrage this Award winner has benefitted from community clean ups, moves towards low impact urban design and better wastewater practices.

Ngongotaha Stream, Bay of Plenty (6.3%). This stream is benefitting from restoration activity that began decades ago. A whole of catchment plan led to 90% of the river’s banks being fenced and replanted. There have been significant decreases in sediment entering the stream, reduced levels of particulate nitrogen and phosophorous – and falling levels of E coli.

Watercress Creek, Tasman (6.5%) A Fonterra farm, now fully fenced. A Fonterra factory, no longer having waste overflows to the creek. Council, schools, communities and farmers all active in replanting. The benefits have been significant.

Oraka Stream, Waikato (7.3%) District Council investments in advanced sewage treatment technology have paid good dividends. Changed farming practices are another factor benefitting this stream.

Oroua River, Horizons (7.7%) This river has benefited from steady improvements in the the treatment of town and industrial waste and community action. The introduction of UV systems is one example. More upgrades are planned.

Rai River, Marlborough (8.0%) At one time during the dairy season there were 3 million cow crossings a day in this catchment. Reducing this through building bridges and culverts has been a priority. The results are clear – significant declines in E coli levels.

Mataura River, Southland (10.5%) This iconic river recognized to be of national importance has had many demands on it – urban wastewater, irrigation, intensified farming, industrial discharges. Better practices across the board – most recently in farming – have paid good dividends in terms of falling E coli levels.

Harris Creek, West Coast (13.0%) 22 dairy farms worked alongside the regional council, NZ Landcare Trust and the local milk processor to lessen the impacts of farming on this spring fed stream. The result is double digit percentage improvements in E coli levels over a decade.

Shag River, Otago (13.1%) Planning changes made irrigation take offs subject to minimum flows. Information about best practice has been shared with the local farming community. Farmers have invested in reticulated water, fencing and new practices.  The drop in E coli levels has been impressive.

Grand Award Finalists

There were three finalists for the most prestigious Award, the Grand Award for the most improved river in New Zealand. The three finalists were the Waikouaiti and Shag Rivers in Otago, and the Harris Creek in the West Coast.

Waikouaiti River, Otago. The Third Most Improved New Zealand River, with a 12% annual improvement in E coli levels.  The whole Waikouaiti community has played a significant role in restoring the river. Regional Council planning changes have led to sewage and effluent being discharged to the land, not the river. The Water Plan has also led to better control of water off takes for irrigation and farming practices have improved. There’s been an active an effective community group restoring the estuary and that has persuaded others to do their bit further up the river.

Harris Creek, West Coast. The Second Most Improved New Zealand River with a 13% annual improvement in E coli levels. 22 dairy farms worked alongside the regional council, NZ Landcare Trust and the local milk processor to lessen the impacts of farming on this spring fed stream. The result is double digit percentage improvements in E coli levels over a decade.

Harris Creek

Harris Creek








Shag River, Otago. The Most Improved New Zealand River. 

Shag River

Shag River

It shows the biggest annual improvement of all the rivers with a 13.1% annual improvement in E coli levels. From being almost dead in 1999 following a severe drought the river has become a good trout fishing river. Progress has been achieved partly as a result of the Regional Council setting minimum flow rates for the river and making all water off takes for irrigation subject to that limit. That has led to more even river flows throughout the year. Another very important factor has been activity by the farmers in the catchment. Farmers have moved to keeping stock out of the river, taking less water and using what they take more efficiently. Shag River highlights an important point about restoring river health: small changes in behaviour by farmers especially can make a big difference to water quality. The changes need not be big or expensive, but they do need to be long term. Credit must go to the Otago Regional Council for designing and implementing their 2004 water plan and for getting alongside their communities to encourage rather than simply demanding change.


River Story Awards

Two community groups who have been actively protecting and restoring their local streams and rivers each received a River Story Award. The winners were the Silverstream Care Group and the Sherry River Community. Click here for more information. The winners were chosen by the Morgan Foundation.

Who picked the winning rivers?

The regional Awards and the Grand Award finalists and ultimate winner were determined by a panel of three experienced scientists. The panel comprised Professor Gillian Lewis, Auckland University; Dr Clive Howard-Williams, NIWA; and Dr Roger Young, Cawthron Institute.Each member of the panel had extensive scientific experience and was well equipped to make the required decisions based on the available data. The panel was looking for rivers which had shown meaningful and significant improvement over the past decade and had been the subject of deliberate action to bring about water quality improvement.

The expert panel examined long term trend e coli data for over 300 water quality monitoring sites throughout New Zealand.

E coli is an indicator of pathogens associated with faecal contamination of rivers and therefore an important indicator of how safe the river is to swim in. The main sources of faecal contamination in New Zealand are waste from humans and farmed animals such as sheep and cows.

Over coming years the Awards programme will recognise different measurements, qualities and activities to improve the health of our rivers. The Awards rely on good quality long-term data being available on key measures of river health. There is suitably comparable data available on, nitrate levels, macroinvertebrate populations and phosphorous levels that will be used as the basis of future Awards. The Ministry for the Environment is developing a river conditions index that will provide a broader measure of the health of individual rivers, taking into account habitat, stream flow and fish stocks.