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  Environment » Natural Resources » Water » Rivers » Waipa River » Trends in Waipa River water quality

Trends in Waipa River water quality

Water quality in the Waipa River is much better than it was in the 1950s. Urban and industrial wastewater treatment has improved considerably. Over the past 20 years or more, however, levels of nitrogen in the river have risen, probably as a result of intensification in land use over recent decades.

On this page: Pollution of the past, The road to recovery, Improvements to urban waste water treatment, Recent changes in water quality, What can you do to help protect the Waipa River?

Waipa River

Pollution of the past

The 1950s impacts of discharges of sewage and industrial wastewater to the river have been addressed. Better treatment technologies led to improvements in water quality.

However, agriculture has continued to intensify in the catchment. The soft mudstone geology of the upper Waipa, prone to landslides and erosion without its forest cover, added large amounts of sediment to the river. The Waipa is the largest tributary to the Waikato River. Its sediment load makes its way into the lower Waikato where the rivers meet at Ngaruwahia.

The road to recovery

Improvements to wastewater treatment

Improvements to wastewater treatment from the 1950s on meant that by the 1990s, contaminant levels of E.coli were 100 times lower.

Recent changes in water quality

Monthly monitoring of water quality in the Waipa River began in 1989. Sampling is now undertaken at five sites along its length (view a map of monitoring sites). Analysis of this record indicates how water quality has changed (Table 1).

Table 1 shows the changes in several water quality measures between 1993 and 2012.  An important trend to note is the increase in total nitrogen over the last 20 years. As with the Waikato River, land use has intensified and today is the main source of nitrogen to the river.

The records of clarity, E.coli and phosphorus are generally stable – though clarity is poor and levels of E.coli and phosphorus are high. Note, however, that monitoring records start after much of the land in the catchment was developed. Find out more about water quality for swimming in the Waipa River.

The recent increases in levels of nitrogen are of concern. As the region continues to grow and develop, putting pressure on the river's catchment, careful management is needed to maintain and improve the Waipa’s quality.

 Table 1: Water quality trends in the Waipa River between 1993 and 2012 (based on methods in Waikato Regional Council technical report 2013/20)

water quality trends


‘No change’ means that overall change in average values is likely just to be due to chance (at the 5% level).
Where a trend is identified, any overall change is unlikely to be due to chance (at the 5% level).
A slight trend has a rate of change which is less than 1% of the median value per year.
An important trend has a rate of change which is more than 1% of the median value per year. 

What can you do to help protect the Waipa River?

  • Don’t tip hazardous substances (such as paint washings or used oil) into stormwater drains.
  • Adopt careful land management practices to minimise contaminated runoff from your property. Check out our information for farmers.
  • Fence riverbanks to keep stock out and prevent stock damage.
  • Work with the Waikato Regional Council to obtain a resource consent if you want to discharge wastewater to the river. Check out our consents information here(external link).
  • Don’t waste water – use it more efficiently and effectively.
  • Get involved and have your say in the Healthy Rivers: Plan for Change/Wai Ora: He Rautaki Whakapaipai project.
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