Story: Water resources

New Zealand ranks in the top 10 countries in the world for water quality and quantity, with its abundant rivers, lakes, underground aquifers and good rainfall. But water resources still need to be carefully managed to deal with competing demands from agriculture, hydroelectricity schemes and urban expansion.

Story by Mike Scarsbrook and Charles Pearson
Main image: Irrigated fields

Story summary

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New Zealand has many sources of good-quality water.


In New Zealand, some places get too much rain, while others don’t get enough. The Southern Alps are one of the rainiest places in the world. They also cause the west side of the South Island to get a lot of rain. The east side of the country can be very dry and often has droughts.

Snow and ice

In spring and summer, water from melting ice and snow flows into rivers. Some hydroelectric schemes rely on this water to fill storage lakes.

Underground water

Aquifers are layers of underground water that flow through gravel or rock. They are a good source of drinking water.

Lakes, dams and reservoirs

Natural and artificial lakes hold a lot of water. Some of them are used to store water for hydroelectricity schemes.


Eight of New Zealand’s 10 biggest rivers are in the South Island.

Sometimes, usually during summer when there is less rain, river levels can get very low, causing water shortages.

If there is too much rain, rivers may flood. Stopbanks have been made beside some rivers to stop them from flooding nearby land and houses.

Managing water

People use water for many things, including drinking, washing, watering crops and making electricity. Regional councils need to manage all these different needs, and limit their damage to the environment.

How to cite this page:

Mike Scarsbrook and Charles Pearson, 'Water resources', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 23 July 2024)

Story by Mike Scarsbrook and Charles Pearson, published 24 November 2008