Public perceptions of NZ’s freshwater environment

By Waiology 14/10/2011

By Daniel Collins

As much as Waiology is about conveying science to the public and fellow water professionals, it’s also valuable for us all to understand how New Zealanders perceive our freshwaters and freshwater management. Excellent insight into this is provided by a biennial report from Ken Hughey and colleagues at Lincoln University. The 2010 report covers the environment in general, but has given special treatment to freshwater. I’ll cover the results in two parts: the first on the state and knowledge of freshwaters; the second on freshwater management. The main conclusion is that Kiwis are more concerned about water than any other environmental issue.

Most of the respondents believed the NZ’s environment and freshwaters were in a good or adequate state. However, the most negative responses of 11 environmental aspects considered was rivers and lakes (grouped together); wetlands and then groundwater followed not far behind. Most respondents believed that NZ has at least a moderate availability of freshwater resources, though 20% of people did not know much about the wetlands we have (Answer: 89,000 hectares, down from 670,000 before human settlement). Considering differences in responses between ethnic groups, Maori typically thought that water quality was worse than did NZ Europeans.

The confidence of the respondents was also interesting. A clear majority of respondents believed they have an adequate or good knowledge of environmental issues. When freshwaters were broken down into rivers, lakes and groundwater, it was clear that people were much less certain about the state of groundwater and its management; however, Cantabrians tended to be more certain about their groundwater, perhaps as an indication of how significant groundwater is to the region. People were also less certain about wetlands and lowland streams than other surface waters. Comparing the postal results with the online part of the study, online respondents were almost always more certain of their answers.

It’s clear that we New Zealanders don’t know all that we could about our freshwaters, particularly about groundwater, wetlands and lowland streams. This is perhaps because a lot more is said in the media about larger rivers and lakes. But even among us scientists, we know more about NZ’s rivers than its aquifers, or even groundwater-fed lowland streams. Waiology will do its part in filling those knowledge gaps soon.

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