Groundwater Science and Research Alliance Aotearoa

The Groundwater Science and Research Alliance Aotearoa is working to raise awareness of the need to improve understanding and management of groundwater systems in New Zealand.

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The Groundwater Science and Research Platform is a collaboration of science related organisations who wish to drive an increased focus on the importance of groundwater. This includes seeking additional funding for research and related activity. The collaboration of ESR(external link), GNS Science,(external link) Lincoln Agritech Ltd(external link), and Aqualinc Research Limited(external link) brings together a diversity of scientists who are experts in groundwater science and the management of groundwater resources.

New Zealand’s Freshwater systems are under unprecedented pressure.  We know that both groundwater and freshwater quality is declining.

Groundwater is an integral part of the freshwater system. With 40% of New Zealanders depending on groundwater for their drinking water and 80% of annual river flow coming from groundwater, it is critical to New Zealand’s freshwater system.  To improve the quality and quantity of New Zealand’s surface water, we will need to improve that of groundwater. 

A large braided river and adjacent groundwater system. These rivers have formed the extensive alluvial plains in NZ and have significant recharges to and discharges from the groundwater systems. The groundwater systems store and transport water from rainfall and river recharge and discharge it into rivers to maintain their flows, particularly over summer.

We need to increase our knowledge and understanding of the impacts and outcomes that will improve the supply and resilience of groundwater systems, how demand is managed and how this will ultimately improve the outcomes for freshwater.  This will not only improve the quality of our freshwater system but help avoid the health crises arising such as that which happened in Havelock North and the declining quality and quantity of New Zealand’s groundwater. 

View our groundwater infographic here. 

To date, the emphasis from central and local government has largely been on surface water and this needs to be rectified to recognise the crucial role that groundwater plays in the hydrological cycle. The Science and Technical Advisory Group made 15 recommendations to the Ministry for the Environment’s Water Taskforce.  Read the recommendations here(external link)

Although the first three recommendations applied to the whole freshwater system including groundwater, the majority of recommendations apply to surface water except for number 13 which explicitly notes that N & P concentrations in surface water also require management of groundwater concentrations.

Recommendation 15 sets out five additional serious gaps in knowledge. One of these was for more research and understanding on groundwater quality and groundwater ecosystems, and pathogens in groundwater used for drinking, and groundwater extraction.

This overarching recommendation was to undertake urgent work to fill the identified knowledge gaps that currently constrain our ability to effectively manage fresh water and the health of freshwater ecosystems.  This underscores the need to be able to fill those gaps through a coordinated science and research programme that will support the outcomes of the Government’s water reform programmes – The Essential Freshwater work programme and the Three Waters Review

The Groundwater Platform formed in 2018 is leading a collaborative response to the threats to groundwater. This has included understanding the impacts and outcomes of the system and the gaps in knowledge that will prevent the objectives of the Government’s water reform programmes to be realised. It also includes working closely with Regional Councils, government agencies and Māori to understand their priorities and needs.


Groundwater Newsletters

In this edition

  • Invite to the groundwater symposium
  • The critical role groundwater plays in water quality 
  • How groundwater contamination processes work 3
  • Understanding nitrogen transfer in small waterways 
  • Wairau Plain groundwater – surface water interaction
  • ESR groundwater scientist honoured
  • Groundwater project reduces nitrates
  • Using groundwater as an energy source
 Read Groundswell Newsletter, Issue 2, February 2019 [PDF, 4.2 MB]

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