The Waikato and Waipa rivers have failed their first comprehensive assessment, collectively scoring a C+ for their poor condition.

The report card, carried out by Niwa, Diffuse Resources and the Waikato Raupatu River Trust, found the overall standard of the river catchment, which spans the Waikato River from Huka Falls to Te Puaha o Waikato and the Waipa River from its source to connection, is unhealthy.

It was released this afternoon as part of the authority's five-year report to the Crown on its effectiveness in ensuring progress in cleaning up the Waikato and Waipa rivers.

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A 'C' score is classed as a fail and indicates the standard of river catchment is below the expectations of the vision and strategy for a healthy river. An 'A' rating represents excellent health and 'D' is poor.

The overall score was reached by assessing eight different indicators including water quality, water security, economy, kai, ecological integrity, experience, effort and sites of significance.

The Waipa River received a C- in the assessment. Photo / Te Awamutu Courier
The Waipa River received a C- in the assessment. Photo / Te Awamutu Courier

Although Niwa said assessing catchments as a whole is becoming international practice, this was the first time indigenous and community values have been combined with the scientific aspects.

Waikato River Authority co-chair Tukoroirangi Morgan, whose organisation funded the report, said Waikato-Tainui had felt the river was in poor shape for many years and the report confirmed this.

" ... but it is also concerning to see areas in the upper catchment thought to be pristine, also reflecting the drop in their quality."

The report also provides a breakdown of scores for the different catchments which includes the lower Waikato, Waipa, mid Waikato and upper Waikato catchments.

The report card grades for the upper catchment would not be finalised until further discussions with iwi in those areas had taken place.

Niwa chief scientist of freshwater and estuaries Dr John Quinn said the project will create a benchmark and a focus for future restoration.

Environment Minister Nick Smith, who was in Hamilton today to accept the report, said progress made by the Waikato River Authority in the first five years was impressive, but said decades of ongoing work was needed to make the required gains in fresh water and river quality.

"We have a huge national challenge in upping the way we manage freshwater that is going to require tighter regulation, significant investment and a change in culture of how we treat our rivers and lakes."

He said the importance of improving water quality was why the Government had committed $220 million over 30 years to improving water quality. The Government would be reviewing the Waikato River Authority's co-governance and co-management arrangements later this year.

Waikato Regional Council chairperson Paul Southgate said the report card showed how important it was for stakeholders to work together to protect the rivers.

In its first five years of operation the Waikato River Authority allocated more than $27 million to 169 clean-up projects with a 97.5 per cent success rate of achieving funding outcomes, according to the five-year annual report.

The breakdown

Lower Waikato

Mainstem C

Tributaries C-


Mainstem C-

Tributaries C

Lake Ngaroto C-

Lake Rotopiko C

Mid Waikato

Mainstem C+

Tributaries C

Lake Rotoroa (Hamilton) C-

Upper Waikato (catchment grades are draft)

Ohakuri to Karapiro

Mainstem C+

Tributaries C

Huka to Ohakuri

Mainstem B-

Tributaries C+

Lake Ngahewa C