Our Drains are Streams

Community Wellbeing
Healthy Ecosystems
Risks to our Catchment
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.

Read our updates here or get involved and ‘Adopt a Drain‘ in your neighbourhood!


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 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.

OUR JOURNEY: What has happened so far?

Scroll down to take a journey backwards through time.

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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