Monitoring Freshwater Improvement Actions

Monitoring the effectiveness of interventions and mitigation actions on freshwater improvement

Project Details Ngā taipitopito

Project Status:
Challenge funding:
Research duration:
July 2020 – March 2021 (proof of concept)
Oct 2021 – Dec 2023 (tool development)

Collaborators Ngā haumi

AgResearch | Auckland Council | Bay of Plenty Regional Council | Bridger Consulting | Cawthron Institute | DairyNZ | Department of Conservation | Elements Environmental Consultants | GNS Science | Griffith University | Headwater Hydrology | Horizons Regional Council | Komanawa Solutions | Land Water People | Lincoln University | Marlborough District Council | Ministry for the Environment | Ngāti Kuia | Ngati Raukawa | NZARM (New Zealand Resource Managers Association) | Pokaiwhenua Catchment Board | Te Hoiere Restoration Project | Traverse Environmental | Waikato Regional Council | Waikato River Authority

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What are we doing?E aha ana mātou?

Actions are being taken to improve freshwater quality, such as stream fencing and planting, wetland restoration and changes in farming practices. How do we know if these actions are successful?

Government regulations introduced in 2020 require action to be taken to improve freshwater where it is degraded, and task regional councils with monitoring both the mitigation actions and their freshwater outcomes.

Our current freshwater monitoring methods and networks are designed to give us information on the state and trend of freshwater but can be ill-suited to robustly establish relationships between improvement actions and their effect.

This research programme has developed an interactive WebApp to help people involved in freshwater improvement actions design monitoring programmes to measure improvements in rivers, lakes and groundwater, and to help them select appropriate monitoring technologies that enable early detection of improvement.

Over time, these monitoring programmes will provide information on successes and failures of past actions, helping prioritise the most effective actions to improve freshwater quality, so our rivers more quickly return to good health.

The WebApp and supporting information are freely available at

How can the research be used? Ka pēhea e whai take ai te rangahau?

  • This research will help everyone involved in freshwater improvement actions (councils, iwi, co-governance entities and catchment groups) robustly monitor rivers, lakes and groundwater aquifers to detect early improvement. For example, the toolkit will enable a regional authority to find out whether its existing freshwater monitoring network is suitable to detect water quality improvements resulting from the implementation of a freshwater plan.
  • The WebApp and associated resources can support decisions about what to measure, where, when, with what technology, and how much it will cost. It is supported by open-source code and is freely available.
  • The research explores which monitoring designs best facilitate a te ao Māori-framed approach to detecting the effects of whenua-based mitigation actions on wai Māori.
  • An online interface allows people to define a level of expected reductions in the losses of the four main contaminants (nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment and coli) from various types of land use and land cover within a catchment, or to directly define the level of water quality improvement they are hoping to see. The online tool provides guidance on best monitoring locations, durations and frequencies for key water quality and ecological indicators to detect improvements.
  • Catchment groups or their freshwater advisors can use the online tool to identify where monitoring would be best targeted, how many sites should be monitored and how often they should be monitored to measure the success of their management actions.
  • A factsheet will summarise monitoring technologies and costs for each key water quality and ecological indicator.

Participation & engagement Te hunga i whai wāhi mai

  • Two case studies have been undertaken: the Pokaiwhenua catchment (a tributary to the Waikato River) and the Pelorus / Te Hoiere Catchment. In each case study, researchers engaged with the catchment’s community, including tangata whenua, catchment groups and regional council.
  • Case studies focussed on the application and testing of the tools and resources produced as part of this research programme in a real-life catchment management context. The main output is the design of a monitoring programme optimised to assess the success of mitigations applied in each catchment.
  • The case studies involved hui led by tangata tiaki to keep tangata whenua informed and to disseminate outputs.
  • The Implementing Te Mana o Te Wai project held wānanga with mātauranga Māori experts from around the country to discuss their relationship with wai, and how this needs to be reflected in the implementation of Te Mana o te Wai.

Research team Te hunga i whai wāhi mai

Programme Leader, Implementation Lead
Olivier Ausseil
Traverse Environmental
Te Ao Māori Lead
Joanne Clapcott
Ngāti Porou
Cawthron Institute
Science Lead
David Hamilton
Griffith University
Mathematics Team Lead
Alasdair Noble
Phase 1 Co-lead
Rogier Westerhoff
GNS Science
Richard McDowell
GIS Tool Development
Crile Doscher
Lincoln University
Webtool Developer
Mike Kittridge
Headwaters Hydrology
Waverley Jones
Traverse Environmental
Zeb Etheridge
Komanawa Solutions
Matt Highway
Element Environmental Consultants
Ruihana Smith
Ngāti Kuia
Te Hoiere Project
Kristie Pakipaki
Ngāti Kuia
Te Hoiere Project
K'Lee Begbie
Ngāti Raukawa
Raukawa Charitable Trust
Anaru Begbie
Ngāti Raukawa
Raukawa Charitable Trust

Tools & resources Ngā utauta me ngā rauemi

Journal Article

Monitoring to detect changes in water quality to meet policy objectives

Detecting change in water quality is key to providing evidence of progress towards meeting water quality objectives. A key measure for detecting change is statistical…
View Journal Article

Monitoring Freshwater Improvement Actions webinar

This webinar explains an interactive WebApp that helps detect improvements in rivers, lakes and groundwater, and helps select appropriate monitoring technologies that enable early detection…
View Video
Interactive Tool

Monitoring Freshwater Improvement Actions Webapp

These WebApp tools will help freshwater stewards and kaitiaki decide what to measure, where, when, with what technology, and understand how much it will cost.…
View Interactive Tool

Monitoring to detect changes in river water quality across New Zealand

Presentation at Freshwater Sciences 2023, the joint meeting of the Society for Freshwater Science and the Australian and New Zealand Freshwater Science societies.
View Presentation

Designing Freshwater Monitoring Programmes to Detect Early Improvement

This short guidance document is to support the design of freshwater monitoring programmes to detect early improvement and is for regional councils, government, and multi-agency…
View Guidance

Academic outputs He whakaputanga ngaio

Journal Article

Towards implementation of robust monitoring technologies alongside freshwater improvement policy in NZ

International studies point out that some freshwater policy objectives are not achieved. This study describes that this is in part caused by shortcomings that include:…
View Journal Article
Technical Report

Measuring the benefits of management actions: Mitigation effectiveness monitoring design (proof of concept phase)

A five-step process was developed to answer the key question asked of Working Group 1:’Have the mitigation actions resulted in improved freshwater outcomes?’. To assist…
View Technical Report
Journal Article

Quantifying contaminant losses to water from pastoral land uses in NZ III: What could be achieved by 2035?

To meet the water quality outcomes sought by catchment communities and regulators, the losses of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and sediment from dairy and sheep/beef…
View Journal Article

In the media Mai i te ao pāpaho

Farmers Weekly, 26 August 2021
Ausseil says state of the environment monitoring is very good at providing what the current state of freshwater is and what the long-term changes are but because it hasn’t been designed specifically with a mitigation plan in mind, although it might pick up improvements, there’s often a struggle to establish a cause and effect relationship to say exactly what caused the improvement.

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