Our Drains are Streams

Collaboration & Partnership
Community Wellbeing
Healthy Ecosystems
Risks to our Catchment
WAI Action Groups
Wānaka Water Project
Water Quality

As Wānaka continues to grow, it is more important than ever that we all work together to keep our waterways healthy and safe. Learning about how our drain systems work, and understanding why polluted stormwater causes problems for our lakes and rivers, is everyones responsibility.
Chris Arbuckle attaching fish to the Drains at a school with the school kids watching
Stormwater drain with fish carving
Child looking into an empty stormwater drains

WAI Wānaka has been piloting the Our Drains are Streams project with the tamariki of Mountainside Educare and attached some of the carvings to drains around their education centre and other schools like Te Kura o Take Kārara.

Jump ahead to learn more about specific parts of the project, or keep scrolling to read the background information.


What is Stormwater?

Stormwater runoff comes from the rain that runs off rooftops, lawns, cars, driveways, hard surfaces and streets. Our stormwater drainage systems are a complex network of underground ‘streams’ that lead straight into the nearest lake or river.

As stormwater begins to flow towards a drain, it naturally picks up dirt, leaves, sticks and other organic materials. It also picks up things you may not see, such as pesticides or fertilisers from your garden, car oil, grease, paint and cleaning products. Rubbish, including microplastics, and sediment can also be washed into drains. Most of the non-organic materials are toxic to freshwater ecosystems.

The pollutants and contaminants that wash into our drainage system start a journey straight to our urban streams, rivers and lakes. Therefore we challenge you to view stormwater drains as underground streams that we do not see.

Did you know?

Whatever goes down our drains eventually flows untreated into our waterways.

Would you wash your car straight into the local stream? There is a negligible difference between washing your car on your driveway or parking it next to a local waterway and washing it there. Washing your car in your driveway creates dirty, soapy water that heads straight into the drain outside your house. Wash it on the grass or stop by the car wash instead.

The next time you see a stormwater drain we challenge you to take a moment to consider this:
A drain is not ‘just a drain’. It is the headwaters of a complex network of underground streams that flow untreated into our beautiful creeks, rivers and lakes.

REMEMBER: If you see something going down the drain that doesn’t look or smell good, please report it on the Pollution Hotline which is staffed 24/7 on 0800 800 033 or fill in this form online.

Beasties on Drains

To show the Wānaka Community the importance of our drain systems, The Touchstone Project, Fish and Game, Friends of Bullock Creek and the Wānaka Community Workshop banded together to bring us ‘Beasties on Drains’. They are steel carvings of freshwater species attached to drains around Wānaka.

The purpose of this project is to illustrate how pollutants that enter our stormwater drains have adverse effects on freshwater species. WAI Wānaka have partnered with ‘Beasties on Drains’ to empower our community, particularly tamariki and rangatahi, to understand how our drain systems work, and the learn about the implications of polluted stormwater. Having tamariki involved in the installation of of the steel carvings empowers them to not only learn about stormwater, but also better connect to the natural world around them.

Get to know ‘the beasties’

Kōaro (Climbing Galaxias)

Known for their broad and grippy fins, kōaro is a small freshwater fish species native to New Zealand and Southern Australia. Although once abundant, recent studies suggest kōaro populations have declined in the Upper Clutha Catchment.

Tuna Kuwharuwharu (Longfin Eel)

Tuna are the largest eel species in the world, with females growing up to two meters in length. Endemic to New Zealand, tuna have long held great significance to Māori culturally, nutritionally (mahika kai) and economically.

Kāmana (Australasian Crest Grebe)

Kāmana live on lakes and require vegetation along the lake margins for nesting and shelter. Population sizes have significantly decreased in New Zealand due to introduced predators and habitat loss.

Rainbow Trout and Brown Trout

Introduced trout species are important fish for the sports fishing industry within the Upper Clutha Catchment. Sought after by avid fisherman, these fish provide recreational benefits and kai (food) for both locals and visitors.

Adopt a Drain in your neighbourhood

Our ‘Adopt A Drain’ project is a way for you and your whānau to get involved in reducing stormwater pollution in your neighbourhood (and therefore our waterways!).

Each half hour session includes a look into your storm drain network, practical ways you can make an impact, as well as the exciting drilling in of a ‘Beasties on Drains’ steel carving onto one of your neighbourhood’s drains. These carvings, created by The Touchstone Project, Fish and Game, Friends of Bullock Creek and The Wānaka Community Workshop, feature freshwater species of our lakes and rivers. We are delighted to be teaming up for these sessions to further our reach and impact in the community.

To get your whānau involved in adopting a drain in your neighbourhood, please email jose@waiwanaka.nz.

Adopt a Stream - Summer Newsletter

Sign-up to our Adopt a Drain Newsletter

We’ve created a seasonal ‘Adopt a Drain’ newsletter for our community. Each edition is full of simple actions you can take to protect our waterways from stormwater pollution. From raking leaves in Autumn to protecting our rivers from sediment in winter, you’ll learn how to be drain-smart year-round. Email jaylene@waiwanaka.nz to be added to the mailing list.

  • To read the Summer Adopt a Drain newsletter click here.
  • To read the Autumn Adopt a Drain newsletter click here.
  • To read the Winter Adopt a Drain newsletter click here.
  • To read our Spring Adopt a Drain newsletter click here.

OUR JOURNEY: What has happened so far?

Scroll down to take a journey backwards through time.


What is a ‘Litta Trap’? The EnviroPod™ LittaTrap™ is an award-winning technology that prevents litter from reaching our oceans and waterways.

When stormwater enters a storm grate or catch pit with a LittaTrap installed, the water passes through the LittaTrap filter bag and litter, debris, and plastic larger than the holes in the filter bag (5mm) are captured and retained.

Ross and Steve from Breen Construction Ltd installing a Litta Trap

We’ve been having a grate time working alongside the community installing Stormwater 360’s Litta Traps in storm drains around high-traffic areas. Each trap installed is cleaned monthly by neighbourhood groups, businesses, and WAI volunteers who also record the types of rubbish each trap is collecting.

Huge thank you to our Litta Trap funders: Breen Construction Ltd, The Rotary Club of Wānaka, Mitre 10 Mega Wānaka and the Albert Town Community Association, as well as the businesses who have installed our Litta Traps in-kind: Breen Construction Ltd and Veolia NZ.

Jose and Tania holding a Litta Trap
Jose and Tania holding a Litta Trap

“The traps were purchased to stop rubbish entering the river from the drains in front of the Albert town shopping area.

Our association is committed to checking them monthly and recording what we find in the national litter intelligence database. This information helps to identify and reduce rubbish entering our pristine Clutha River / Mata-au.”

– Tania, Albert Town Community Association


Shout out to the Findex Foundation for their support of Drains are Streams! Their generous donation of $1000 has helped us amp up the programme with cool new learning tools, such as our ‘Freshwater Species Memory Card Game’

We’ve transformed the classic game of memory cards into a fun-filled journey, providing an opportunity for tamariki and their whānau to learn about the incredible freshwater species of our region. Proceeds of each deck go back into WAI, helping us to continue accelerating local action for our freshwater. Email jaylene@waiwanaka.nz to order a deck today.

The WAI team making boxes for the card game.

More costumes for the team!

Come January we are teaming up with Fabricate / Wānaka Community Workshop to create a life-sized tuna puppet/costume. We will bring this along to classroom visits during the Drains are Streams programme.

We can’t wait to see our ‘tuna vision’ come to life with the amazing Fabricate volunteer sewing squad. Materials for the puppet with be entirely second-hand/thrifted from local shops such as Wastebusters. Kā mihi Findex Foundation!

Kāmana costume made by Fabricate / Wānaka Community Workshop.

September 2023 – Celebrating success with Riverside Educare and Motessori Preschool

Exciting updates from our Drains are Streams programme! We’ve wrapped up two more successful runs of the Drains are Streams programme with Riverside Educare and Montessori Children’s House Wānaka. Turning learning into outdoor fun for the tamariki involved.

Both groups headed out to Butterfields wetland to meet the tuna/longfin eels, followed by Bremner Bay to explore our local stormwater network. Tamariki even got to meet ‘Gertie the Grebe’ during our at-school session, fostering connections to our local kāmana (also known as pūteketeke or Australasian crested grebe) that live in Lake Wānaka and Lake Hāwea.

“The grebes nest in Wānaka lake on boxes for nests and carry their babies on their back” – Cora age 5, Riverside educare.
kids covering their ears for the drilling of the beasties on drains
kids watching the kāmana being attached to the concrete next to the drain

As per tradition, we ended the 4-week programme with the celebratory drilling in of the ‘beasties on drains’ at both centres, symbolising our shared commitment of helping protect our lakes, rivers and wetlands from stormwater pollution. “Only rain down the storm drain!” tamariki continued to shout as we said our goodbyes/ see you later!

Our Drains are Streams programme continues to expand

After the success of Our Drains are Streams at Wanaexcel and Mountainside Educare, more education centres have jumped on board for the 4-week journey. We’ve been busy with both Riverside Educare and Montessori Children’s House Wānaka, exploring our local storm drains and building connections to the freshwater species of our waterways.

Thanks to the support of The Findex Foundation, we’re able to ramp up the programme with new interactive materials such as native species puppets and stormwater learning tools. Stay tuned as this programme continues to improve and expand throughout our community – one storm drain at a time!

June 2023 – Wanakaexcel visits the Butterfield Wetland

Our second field trip with Wanaexcel took us over the Hāwea swing bridge to Butterfields Wetlands, a great spot for exploring nature and getting up close with local species such as tuna (longfin eel), pāpango (NZ scaup) and pīwakawaka (fantail).

Tamariki were thrilled to spot two large tuna living in the wetland. We discussed why keeping stormwater pollutants out of our waterways is important for the species that live in our lakes, rivers and wetlands. Through Our Drains are Streams we are able to take tamariki on a journey of discovery, learning about our stormwater drains and building connections to local species. “Only rain down the storm drain” has become a new favourite chant for this passionate group.

Wanaexcel’s Our Drains are Streams journey came to a successful end in the same place it first began – on the school grounds. To celebrate their learnings and leave a lasting impact, 2 ‘beasties on drains’ – a tuna and kōaro – were drilled onto the school’s storm drains. Over the course of four weeks, these tamariki have evolved into storm drain experts, understanding the impacts of stormwater pollution and fostering connections to the species we aim to protect.

MAY 2023 – Our Drains are Streams Programme kicks off at Wanaexcel 

Wanaexcel has begun their Our Drains are Streams journey, learning about our local stormwater networks and the species that live in our lakes and rivers. The education centre had their first session with project lead Jaylene, where they were introduced to stormwater, pollution, native fish and why it is important that ‘only rain goes down the drain.’ 

“The kids all went home and taught their parents last week, it was so cute. All the parents came in saying they came home singing ‘only storm water rain in our drain.’ There is also a drain right by our gates, the kids step on it when they get into the van. They were telling me all about it and saying how if other things go down the drain it hurts the fish. So great to hear them learning and re-telling.”

– Testimonial from Wanaexcel educator Megan.

Time to start exploring our stormwater outlets! Following the in-class session, this group of 32 enthusiastic tamariki headed out to Bremner Bay to discover where some of our community’s major storm drain networks enter Lake Wānaka. We took a look at some common pollutants entering the lake, such as oil, rubbish and rabbit poop. Luckily we saw a lot of harakeke and other plants along the lakeside, the tamariki learned how plants like these can help our freshwater by filtering out the ‘bad guys’. 

Next up for Wanaexcel will be a field trip out to Butterfields Wetland, an important area for local wildlife, as well as our stormwater. We will explore the wetland, observing the web of life that exists in these ecosystems, including some incredible species – such as the longfin eel (tuna). By learning about the creatures that live in our lakes, rivers and wetlands, tamariki are able to begin building connections between themselves and our local environment. 

MARCH 2023 – ‘Adopt a Drain’ continues to grow 

A hand holding rubbish above a drain

Our Adopt a Drain programme is gaining momentum! With four neighbourhoods and three schools/education centres now involved, we are starting to make a difference in our community. We are proud of our community’s engagement and participation in clearing debris and mitigating pollution from their neighbourhood or school stormwater drains, therefore helping our freshwater. Join us in keeping our lakes and rivers clean and healthy by adopting a drain in your own neighbourhood – email jose@waiwanaka.nz

October 2022 – raising awareness

Temporary sculpture made of driftwood and rock

For a short time, during the Wao Summit 2022, a collection of fish and a message appeared on the grass next to Bullock Creek near the Wānaka library. The message was simple: ONLY RAIN (down the drain) to look after our fish and aquatic ecosystems by keeping our water clean.

As part of the Wao Summit 2022, WAI Wānaka created an ephemeral sculpture with students from Wānaka Primary School and Te Kura o Take Kārara. This sculpture was part of the Our Drains are Streams campaign to raise awareness about the fact that the stormwater drains in our streets lead straight into our waterways – no filter.

Thanks to Jose from the WAI education team, Shapes by Sal and Lizzy from Little Art School for their creative input, energy and enthusiasm for making this event happen. Such a fun way to tell a story!

August 2022 – last pilot session

Local tamariki on the Wānaka jetty

Our last pilot session with the tamariki from Mountainside Educare was in August 2022. Alongside John Darby, the tamariki learnt about the kāmana (grebes) and took a visit to the tuna at the lakefront. The aim is to learn how we can look after these taonga species of our lake. At the end of the pilot project, we hope to gain feedback from the children and teachers so that we can enhance this programme before applying for funding to roll it out further.

July 2022 – A pilot project in action

Mountainside Educare are piloting our new Our Drains Are Streams project with their 8 most senior tamariki in the centre.

Early July 2022 we introduced the children to stormwater and with the help of Paul van Klink from Otago Fish & Game, drilled the first carvings onto the drains around the centre. (See photo below)

Attaching fish carving to drains with local pre-school kids

The next day Jaylene met the Mountainside tamariki at Bremner Bay to explore the stormwater outlets along the lakefront. The tamariki loved the idea of “only rain down the storm drain” after learning all about it from Freddy the Fish the day before.

A week later, we visited Butterfield wetland (photos above) to carry on our learning journey and to bring into context the damage stormwater pollution can have on our freshwater ecosystems. The tamariki found out what an ‘ideal habitat’ might look like for our tuna (longfin eels), fish and manu (birds) and to learn about the importance of repo (wetlands) for our freshwater health. We saw an abundance of wildlife in the repo, including a large female tuna.

June 2022 – the beasties are ready

The Touchstone Project donated the ‘steel beasties’ for local stormwater education. The crew of the weekly MenShed at the Wānaka Community Workshop put the final touches on the carvings, so that they are now ready to go on the drains.

Stormwater drain with fish carving

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