What’s in our groundwater?

water_glassGroundwater is a crucial natural resource — around one third of the water used in New Zealand comes from underground — but it can be easily overlooked in the contentious debates surrounding declining water quality and resource management.

With the highly-anticipated recommendations from the Land and Water Forum on freshwater management reform due back to government by 31 Aug, water quality issues will soon be in the headlines again.

Groundwater supplies drinking water for cities like Christchurch and Napier, and for rural communities wherever well water is used. Changing land use, including increasingly intensive farming practices, can substantially degrade groundwater quality, and even lead to bacterial outbreaks and hospitalisations. But many complicating factors can make it difficult to trace pollutants back to their source.

In this online media briefing, the Science Media Centre (NZ) invited a range of groundwater quality and freshwater researchers to address questions including:

  • Why is groundwater important?
  • How do recent changes in land use affect groundwater quality?
  • What impacts from agricultural practices (dairying, irrigation, pesticides, etc.)?
  • What best practices can minimise these effects?
  • What lives in groundwater? How do human activities affect these ecosystems?


Dr Jenny Webster-Brown – Director, Waterways Centre for Freshwater Mgmt

Prof Jenny Webster-Brown is a water quality scientist with 30 years experience, and Director of the Waterways Centre for Freshwater Management. The newly-established Waterways Centre was officially launched July 2010, and draws on expertise from Canterbury and Lincoln universities to create a focal point for improving knowledge-driven water resource management in New Zealand.

Dr Chris Daughney – Manager, Groundwater Section, GNS Science

Dr Chris Daughney manages the Groundwater Section at GNS Science, which includes fifteen scientists and technicians, and offers comprehensive expertise in all aspects of groundwater systems and processes. Since 2002, Chris has managed the New Zealand National Groundwater Monitoring Programme, which operates in collaboration with fifteen regional authorities across New Zealand, and provides a national perspective on trends in groundwater quality.

Dr Murray Close – Principal Scientist (Groundwater quality), ESR

Dr Murray Close has 32 years of experience as a groundwater quality scientist. He started his career in the Hydrology Centre, Water & Soil division in Ministry of Works & Development, and later transferred to the DSIR, Geology & Geophysics division. He has been leader of the groundwater group at ESR for the last 18 years. He has carried out a wide range of studies into groundwater quality and impacts of land use on groundwater.

Dr Graham Fenwick – Principal Scientist – Groundwater Biodiversity, NIWA

Dr Graham Fenwick started his career in marine biology, subsequently applying his expertise in crustacean biology and ecology to the new field of groundwater ecology. Graham continued his earlier work in groundwater biodiversity after joining NIWA in 1998 and continues to investigate the biodiversity and functioning of this fascinating realm.


Pt 1: [audio:https://www.sciencemediacentre.co.nz/wp-content/upload/2010/08/Groundwater-quality-pt-1.mp3]

Pt 2: [audio:https://www.sciencemediacentre.co.nz/wp-content/upload/2010/08/Groundwater-quality-pt-2.mp3]

Q & A: [audio:https://www.sciencemediacentre.co.nz/wp-content/upload/2010/08/Groundwater-quality-pt-3.mp3]

Click on the players above to hear audio from the briefing.  Scroll down to view slides from the speakers.