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Wānaka Water Project

Image of lake Wānaka in winter with some kōwhai flowers and kids exploring stormwater

E mao ana ki ua, e ua ana ki mao.
It is fine until it rains, it rains until it’s fine.

Welcome to WAI Wānaka’s winter update! It’s been a wet and snowy winter season so far, so it’s great to see the sun and the first kōwhai flowers out in Wānaka this week! As the above proverb reminds us, good times alternate with bad, as sunshine alternates with rain. Rain can offer fun times with snow in the mountains, and can also bring the problems of flooding, sediment loss and water pollution in the valleys below.

WAI Wānaka welcomes you to join us on a journey across the basin. As Wānaka continues to grow, it is more important than ever that we all work together to keep our waterways healthy and safe.


Applying fish carvings to stormwater drains with Wānaka tamariki to remind people to 'only drain rain'.

Our Drains are Streams

Why are there fish & grebe on my drain?

DID YOU KNOW? Whatever goes down our stormwater drains, mostly flows untreated directly into our lakes and rivers via a complex system of underground ‘streams’.To help us all remember the connection between the drains and our waterways, a group of local community organisations have banded together to bring us the beautiful steel carvings of freshwater species, reminding us that ‘ONLY RAIN’ should enter the drain.

WAI Wānaka’s education team are currently running a pilot project with the tamariki from Mountainside Educare. The children are learning about how our drain systems work, and why polluted stormwater causes problems for our lakes and rivers. They also helped attach the first carvings to the drains on their street. Find out more about the project here or click on the link below.

Child looking into an empty stormwater drains

Learning resources and activities:

High lake levels at lake Wānaka water front jetties

What’s the Science behind it?

Our environment is changing, how can we keep it healthy?

Embracing the age old “knowledge is power” we strive to learn in order to act with purpose. Using the Community Catchment Plan as a guide, our Science Coordinator Ash Rabel had a look at what sort of research is needed to care for our unique deep Alpine Lakes into the future. Read his blog post here.

Three main areas of interest:

  • Understanding the impact of urban growth and land use changes
  • Biosecurity risks and effects of invasive pest species
  • Gaining a deeper understanding of our unique aquatic biodiversity

WAI Wānaka field team planting riparian margins with native plants to protect the water quality near Wishbone Falls

Riparian Planting

Wānaka Water Project

Another way to help protect our waterways is by planting native grasses, sedges, flaxes, shrubs and/or trees along their edges in the riparian zones. This helps improve the health of freshwater ecosystems by filtering nutrients before they reach the water, including nitrogen, phosphorus and bacteria like E. coli.

The 5-year goal of the Wānaka Water Project is to plant 24,000 eco-sourced natives along local waterways. Over the last 4+ years, WAI Wānaka has been working in collaboration with Te Kākano Aotearoa Trust, funders and the community to achieve this goal. We are excited to report that only just over 3,000 plants remain to be planted this spring! 

Number of riparian plants planted by the WAI Wānaka Water Project

Lake Hāwea catchment Group winter grazing workshop

Rural Action Groups

Winter Grazing Workshop

Lake Hāwea Catchment Group recently held a Winter Grazing Workshop at the McCarthy’s farm near Lake Hāwea. After a very wet start to winter, the group engaged experts to look at best practices for winter grazing, crops to improve soil structure and water holding capacity as well nutrient cycling. ORC’s first 2022 rural flyover last month showed positive results for winter grazing in the Otago region. New regulations come into effect 1st November 2022.

Person looking at Lake Hāwea from Breast Peak


A lot of mahi has gone on behind the scenes at WAI Wānaka to align our efforts with the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Every month we will introduce you to one of the goals most relevant to our work.

TO ENSURE AVAILABILITY AND SUSTAINABLE MANAGEMENT OF WATER AND SANITATION FOR ALL” Target 6.6: By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes. 

At WAI Wānaka we protect and enhance wai māori (freshwater) in our region by working with landowners and the community, delivering action backed by research and educational programmes.

Sustainable Development Goal  6

Shout-out to all of our wonderful sponsors, supporters, stakeholders and the local community without whom we wouldn’t be able to continue our mahi !

Click here to find out who they are.

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