Fish & Game has described the Environment Aotearoa 2019 report as revealing how regional councils had "completely failed" to protect the environment.

"Regional councils, under the RMA, have a legal obligation to protect the environment for future generations, and this report shows they have failed to do that," CEO Martin Taylor said.

The report confirmed that water quality was poor, and getting worse in most parts of the country, he said. For example, only 63 of more than 3820 lakes bigger than one hectare were being monitored, and 35 per cent did not meet regulatory bottom line.

Northland wetland maps - after human habitation. Photo / Supplied
Northland wetland maps - after human habitation. Photo / Supplied
Northland wetland maps - before human habitation. Photo / Supplied
Northland wetland maps - before human habitation. Photo / Supplied

"Some of the worst water quality issues can be found in Manawatu-Wanganui, Canterbury, Otago and Southland, where all of these regional councils have promoted and protected agricultural interests over the environment for decades," Mr Taylor said. "At a basic level the report confirms that if you have too much irrigation, too much fertiliser and too many cows, you destroy water quality in rivers, lakes and ground water."

Advertisement

The report also showed why the government had a mandate to stop further decline in water quality by regulating environmentally unsustainable agricultural practices.

"We are looking forward to the government delivering on their Essential Freshwater programme, aimed at stopping further degradation in water quality and to reverse past damage," he said, noting that 82 per cent of New Zealanders were extremely or very concerned about water quality according to a nationwide Colmar-Brunton poll in December.

Key facts

The report states that:

• Between 2008-2017, 55 pert cent of monitored sites had worsening nitrate-nitrogen levels and 25 per cent worsening dissolved reactive phosphorus.

• Between 2001-2016, 214 wetlands covering 1250ha were lost, and 746 more decreased in size.

• Failure to address erosion is costing $250-$300 million per year in reduced soil productivity.

• Despite the erosion problem there is little actual monitoring, just models.

?Most of Canterbury, parts of Waikato and Southland have nitrate-nitrogen levels exceeding that required for ecosystem health.

Advertisement

• Seventy-one per cent of groundwater sites (2012-2014) did not meet drinking water standards for E coli at least once. Thirty per cent exceeded the criteria more than five times over those two years.

• More than five billion cubic metres of water is consented for irrigation each year. Dairy farming accounts for 59 per cent of agricultural water takes.

• In Canterbury, more water is consented for taking than is available in the region's rivers.