Global warming is amplifying the water cycle much faster than expected

The global water cycle – the constant movement of freshwater between the clouds, land and the ocean – plays an important role in our daily lives. This delicate system transports water from the ocean to the land, helping to make our environment habitable and soil fertile.

But rising global temperatures have been making this system more extreme: water is moving away from dry regions towards wet regions, causing droughts to worsen in parts of the globe while intensifying rainfall events and flooding in others.

In other words, wet areas are getting wetter, and dry areas are getting drier.

Until now, changes to the cycle have been difficult to directly observe, with around 80% of global rainfall and evaporation happening over the ocean.

But a new University of New South Wales-led study, published this week in Nature, has used changing patterns of salt in the ocean to estimate how much ocean freshwater has moved from the equator to the poles since 1970. The findings show that between two and four times more freshwater has moved than climate models anticipated – giving us insights about how the global water cycle is amplifying as a whole. Continue reading

Lincoln University scientists develop game- changing technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Two Lincoln University scientists, Emeritus Professor Keith Cameron and Professor Hong Di, have delivered another breakthrough technology with an immediate benefit for the dairy farming sector to combat global climate change.

Developed in partnership with Ravensdown, the technology is an effluent treatment system that reduces the methane emissions from farm dairy effluent ponds by up to 99%.

Launched to market by Ravensdown and Lincoln University yesterday  under the brand name EcoPond, the new treatment system also slashes the amount of E.coli in the treated effluent, reduces ammonia emissions, mitigates odour and cuts phosphate leaching losses from effluent areas into waterways by up to 90%.

Cutting greenhouse gas methane emissions has been a focal point of the recent COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, with New Zealand joining more than 100 countries pledging to reduce methane emissions by 30% over the next decade. Continue reading

Overseer report: Govt promises work on improving tools to manage nutrient losses from farms

Federated Farmers says the foundations of New Zealand’s farm environment management system have been rocked to the core by the release of today’s report into the effectiveness of farm nutrient modelling system Overseer.

The report by an independent Science Advisory Panel has identified shortcomings with the current version of nutrient modelling software Overseer and concluded that it had no confidence in Overseer’s ability to estimate nitrogen losses from farms in its current form.

The feds have been fighting against the use of Overseer by local councils to define regulations for nutrient management on farm for more than a decade.

Their complaint has been Overseer’s lack of accuracy.

While the farm leaders were expressing their dismay, Environment Minister David Parker and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor were promising the Government will help develop improved tools to manage and estimate total on-farm nutrient loss.

The Ministers welcomed the government-appointed Panel’s report and said it will help develop improved tools for farmers and regulators to meet future Essential Freshwater planning requirements.

“Despite its shortcomings Overseer has been a useful tool to build awareness and influence practices to manage nutrient loss at the farm and catchment level,” David Parker said.

“There is a robust body of independently peer-reviewed knowledge on nitrogen mitigation options that sits alongside Overseer.

“Farmers have used Overseer, alongside advice, to improve practices and freshwater outcomes.

“We encourage farmers to continue their vital efforts to reduce nutrient losses.”

The Ministers say they recognise the urgency of the work, given the 2024 deadline for Regional Councils to develop RMA plans under the Essential Freshwater reform package.

“Our farmers and growers have put in a significant amount of work and investment over many years to boost environmental outcomes on-farm,” Damien O’Connor said.

“The Government will seek to ensure improved tools for estimating nutrient loss are transparent, accurate and effective.”

“Options to be considered include developing a risk-based index, developing a next-generation Overseer to address the panel’s concerns, greater use of controls on practices to manage nitrogen leaching, and potentially longer-term developing a new approach altogether.”

David Parker said it was vital farmers and councils had some certainty over the next year. Councils will continue to implement their plans and the freshwater reforms.

Damien O’Connor said it was essential that farmers and councils using Overseer have some certainty on how to proceed.

For this reason, the Government will support work on a next generation Overseer.”

Regional councils will continue to administer consents to manage freshwater at the farm level although there may need to be adjustments in the approach in some cases.

David Parker said:

“We’ve spoken with Councils, and they can proceed with developing plans on the basis that nutrient loss estimation, and risk assessment tools will be available for the preparation of those new plans by the end of 2024.” 

Damien O’Connor said:

“We need to build on the progress that farmers have already made.”

Over the coming months, officials will develop best practice guidance for models used in environmental regulation and these will feed into approaches and tools in the longer term.

“The Government supports the development of a next generation Overseer and other nutrient management tools. Having fit for purpose tools now will support our farmers to deliver long-term environmental benefits across New Zealand,” Damien O’Connor said.

Continue reading

Impact Of tile drains on water quality is being investgated

A new project in the Hawke’s Bay is investigating the impacts of tile drains on horticultural land, to provide valuable information about their effect on freshwater quality.

Horticultural tile drains are used to divert excess moisture from the soil. This can help waterlogged land become more productive.

The research project aims to understand whether this diversion of water contributes additional nutrients to our waterways that may impact water quality.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), several key players in the horticulture industry and Hawke’s Bay Regional Council have kicked off the project to investigate this further. MPI is contributing $1.34 million through its Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures (SFF Futures) fund.

“It’s a big knowledge gap currently and a potential issue that the sector is keen to examine proactively,” says Leander Archer, Horticulture and Environment Consultant at AgFirst Consultants Ltd, which is leading the research.

“The horticulture sector wants to ensure that its nutrient use is efficient, and understand if the tile drains are in fact impacting our waterways. If there’s no impact then great, we’ll have the data to prove it, and if there’s an impact at certain times of year or when we face certain types of weather, we want to know about it so we can change our management strategies.”

The project will collect data over three years on 16 commercial properties in the Heretaunga Plains in Hawke’s Bay that are used for growing fruit and vegetables. It will set up two trial sites on each farm, enabling experimentation with new management strategies in year three on one site, while leaving the other as a control.

“The Heretaunga Plains has been selected because it has extensive tile drainage networks and a range of groundwater pressures and soil types, and much of the catchment is used for high-value horticulture. Plus, the Karamū catchment within this area has reported water quality issues,” says Ms Archer.

“Horticulturalists want to grow healthy food that contributes to healthy communities, in a way that cares for the soil and waterways that sustain us all. This research will help them to do that. If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

Steve Penno, MPI’s director of investment programmes, says the outcomes of this research have the potential to provide deeper insights into how the horticultural industry can become more sustainable.

“We all want clean waterways,” says Mr Penno. “The findings will be useful for other regions across the country as well. At the very least we’ll gain more information about whether this is a problem we need to address. And at the most we’ll identify the size of the issue and how to best measure nutrient losses to understand how to mitigate these.”

AgFirst Consultants HB Ltd is currently concluding the site selection process for the trial farms, for monitoring to begin in Spring. Interested growers are encouraged to follow the project through their industry body or can get in touch at

Source: Ministry for Primary Industries


Government consults ag/hort sector on freshwater farm plan

The Government is inviting farmers and growers to provide their practical ideas to help develop high-quality and workable freshwater farm plans, in line with its freshwater goals.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor and Environment Minister David Parker today released the consultation documents for freshwater farm plans and stock exclusion low slope maps.

Comment is being sought on a new, more accurate, mapping approach for stock exclusion that better reflects what farmers see on the ground.

These are part of the Government’s Essential Freshwater package. Public consultation with farmers, agricultural sector groups, iwi and Māori, councils, and environmental groups will run from 26 July – 12 September.

“I want to thank industry organisations for their input so far, which has improved on original proposals. There are many farmers and growers already committed to practices to improve water quality and it’s vital they have their say and contribute to this consultation,” Damien O’Connor said.

“Taking a farm planning approach is a flexible alternative. It also provides farmers a visible way of showing their sustainability credentials to the markets we sell in to, which will help boost value growth.”

David Parker said improving freshwater quality was important to all Kiwis.

“High-quality freshwater farm plans will provide a practical way for famers to meet the freshwater standards the Government introduced last year, while helping councils play their part.

“Everybody’s feedback will be carefully considered, and we expect the outcome to be released later this year.”

“Working together and getting good ideas from this consultation is important, and that’s why I encourage people to have their say. We believe a significant improvement in freshwater quality is achievable in five years – and we can have healthy waterways within a generation,” David Parker said.

Damien O’Connor said feedback was being sought on the content of freshwater farm plans, what outcomes could be achieved, and how plans could be certified, audited and amended.

“We will also be asking about the balance between using the low slope map and freshwater farm plans for identifying areas for stock exclusion.

“The Government is listening to, and helping farmers and growers as shown already by our work with the sector on He Waka Eke Noa, integrated farm planning and ensuring farmers are using the best practices for intensive winter grazing. This approach and these initiatives are fundamental to our Fit For A Better World roadmap,’’ Damien O’Connor said. 

David Parker said the Government would soon release a review of whether the nutrient management tool, Overseer, will be a useful long term tool. An earlier report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment called for a re-evaluation of Overseer.

“We’re committed to ensuring we have the right settings and tools in place to lift freshwater quality and help people achieve that goal,” David Parker said.

The discussion document is now available on the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry for Primary Industries websites.

The online submission forms will be available when the consultation opens on the week of 26 July on the Ministry for the Environment’s website in the have your say section.

Stock exclusion regulations – proposed changes

Freshwater farm plan regulations discussion document

Freshwater farm plan regulations supporting document

Source:  Minister of Agriculture

Environmental-economic accounts: Water physical stocks data show NZ is getting drier

New Zealand appears to be getting drier, Stats NZ said today, although it noted there is natural variation in precipitation due to seasons and cycles.

Average annual rainfall for the five years 2016–2020 was 3.1 per cent below the previous five-year average and 10.7 per cent below the five-year average for 1996–2000.

Between 2016 and 2020, New Zealand’s average precipitation, which includes rain, sleet, snow, and hail, was 504,988 million cubic metres. This was down from the average of 520,890 million cubic metres in the previous five years and down from an average of 565,691 million cubic metres in 1996–2000.

Average annual precipitation for five-year periods (million cubic metres), 1996–2020

Five-year grouping Precipitation
1996-2000 565,690
2001-2005 528,307
2006-2010 533,877
2011-2015 520,890
2016-2020 504,988

“In 2019, seven out of the nine North Island regions experienced drought-like conditions, with their lowest precipitation over the entire timeseries (year ended June 1995–2020),” environmental-economic accounts manager Stephen Oakley said.

Continue reading

Effluent treatment system is set to deliver big water savings for dairy farming

The ClearTech effluent treatment system at Lincoln University Dairy Farm (LUDF) has saved more than 600,000 litres of freshwater in its first full month of operation.

The quantity of freshwater saved equates to the average daily water use of about 3,000 people, or the amount of water that an individual person would use in eight years. With steeply-rising farmer demand for ClearTech, the new effluent treatment technology will potentially save billions of litres of freshwater a year if used across the New Zealand dairy industry.

LUDF Farm Manager Peter Hancox says the impact of the ClearTech system on the farm’s operations has been a revelation. Continue reading

Changes are made to winter grazing regulations to make implementation more practical

Cabinet this week agreed to make some changes to regulations within the new National Environmental Standards for Freshwater to make them clearer.

It had become apparent that some of the regulations within the Freshwater standards – including ones around winter grazing – needed to be adjusted, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor acknowledged.

“So we’ve done that,” he said.

The regulations on pugging depths around fixed water troughs and gateways weren’t practical and have been changed to make them more realistic. Discrete areas around fixed water troughs and gateways have now been exempted.

And the definition for pugging has been changed to provide more clarity.

Mr O’Connor said: Continue reading

Field trials successful on DNA tracers for tracking water contamination

Tracking the sources of freshwater contamination is expected to become much quicker and more accurate, thanks to the successful field trials of a new DNA-based tracer technology.

A team led by ESR scientist Dr Liping Pang has developed DNA tracers that have undergone field trials in groundwater, surface water and soil.

Dr Pang, who presented the research at the recent New Zealand Hydrological Society Conference in Rotorua, says the technology offers the promise of much better tools to investigate water contamination events like the one that struck the Havelock North drinking supply in 2016.

Current contamination tracking using fluorescent dyes and salts are limited to one location at a time and can have an adverse impact on aquatic organisms if applied at high concentrations. Continue reading

Groundwater Pesticide Survey finds organic contaminants

A four yearly nationwide assessment of New Zealand’s groundwater resources has found very low concentrations of organic contaminants in close to two thirds of the wells tested.

ESR has been co-ordinating the groundwater survey since 1990 on behalf of 12 regional and unitary councils. The latest survey was conducted from September to December last year.

As well as pesticides, the survey for the first time tested for glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup, a popular weed killer) as well as a suite of Emerging Organic Contaminants (EOCs) for all of the councils, with the exception of Hawke’s Bay, West Coast and Waikato Regional Councils, and Nelson City Council. Continue reading