Everyone should be able to access clean, fresh water. In New Zealand, swimming in rivers, gathering freshwater kai and drinking pure water is our way of life.

But our freshwater is under threat from polluting industries, like intensive dairying.

Too many Kiwis can’t swim in their local rivers due to harmful bacteria and algae. 70% of our rivers are so polluted you can’t swim in them.

Three quarters of our native freshwater fish are threatened with extinction and in some areas the drinking water is so polluted it’s unsafe for us to drink. 

Together, we’re standing up for the health of our freshwater for generations to come. Learn more about the risks to our rivers, lakes and drinking water, and why it’s so important we protect freshwater.

The threats

Too many cows

Too many cows

New Zealand’s bloated dairy industry is placing huge pressure on our land and water. There are 6.5 million cows in New Zealand. Run-off from cow urine causes nitrates to get into our waterways, where they fuel growth of slimy algae.

Synthetic nitrogen fertiliser

Synthetic nitrogen fertiliser

Synthetic nitrogen fertiliser is applied to the land to promote rapid grass growth and feed New Zealand’s huge dairy herd. New Zealand uses half a million tonnes of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser every year, which enters our waterways as run-off.

Big irrigation

Big irrigation

Big agribusinesses are pushing dairy farming into parts of the country that could never naturally support cows. Irrigation is used to create artificially green paddocks in dry areas. Irrigation draws enormous amounts of water out of our rivers and lakes.

Why it matters

Human health

Human health

Sick water means sick people. We all depend on clean water for our survival. We’ve seen whole towns fall ill when their drinking water becomes polluted from intensive agriculture. And in 2020, the Ministry of Health began investigating the link between nitrate pollution in drinking water and New Zealand’s extremely high rate of bowel cancers.

Fish and animals

Fish and animals

Three quarters of our native freshwater fish species are at risk of extinction. And degradation of our rivers and lakes can make them unlivable places for our native birds and other critters, too. Land use change (like converting wetlands to dairy farms) destroys natural habitats, too.

Climate crisis

Climate crisis

Industrial agriculture isn’t just harming our rivers, it’s wrecking our climate, too. Intensive dairying is New Zealand’s biggest climate polluter. And when applied to land, synthetic nitrogen fertiliser releases as much greenhouse gases as our entire domestic aviation industry.

What’s the solution?

If we want to clean up our rivers and safeguard our climate, we need to change the way we farm.

Phase out synthetic nitrogen fertiliser

We’re calling on the Government to phase out synthetic nitrogen fertiliser for good. There’s a cap on synthetic nitrogen fertiliser, but it’s set very high. We need everyone to tell the Government that we won’t stand for this continued pollution of our rivers.

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Shift to regenerative farming

There are farmers across New Zealand that are farming without inputs like synthetic nitrogen fertiliser. Instead, they’re finding ways to work with nature, not against it. By caring for soil, planting out streams and wetlands, and reducing inputs, farming can be part of the freshwater solution. Join us to call on the Government to invest $1 billion in shifting Aotearoa to regenerative farming.

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Read our briefing to the Government on why synthetic nitrogen fertiliser must be phased out.