Living Water – A Fonterra/DOC partnership for water quality improvement

Starting a journey toward sustainable dairy farming and quality waterways 


The Department of Conservation and Fonterra are working together to improve the natural habitats of five key waterways in significant dairy farming regions around New Zealand. Quality waterways are pivotal to maintaining the healthy environments that protect native wildlife, and also underpin a sustainable dairy industry.

DOC and Fonterra signed the 10-year/$20 million partnership agreement called Living Water in 2013. Like many of DOC’s national partnerships it involves local communities in the conservation effort, in this case including farmers, iwi, councils and environmental care groups.

Sharing water quality research and development with the farming sector 


The partnership also invests in research and development of new habitat enhancement and farm management techniques that will be shared with the wider farming community and other conservation providers.

The Department’s conservation advice and expertise along with Fonterra’s on-farm environmental programme and support will provide working examples of the Living Water vision – “a sustainable dairy industry as part of healthy, functioning ecosystems that together enrich the lives of all New Zealanders.”

Both organisations are making a commitment to the success of the partnership.

Fonterra is providing farmer shareholders and staff time, dairying and marketing expertise, volunteers, two full-time project managers and the programme’s operating funding. The Department is providing staff time, technical expertise, community and iwi engagement skills and a Fonterra funded full-time national project manager.

The programme has five key performance areas:

  • Achieving biodiversity and water-quality improvement

  • Developing environmental sustainability on-farm and off-farm

  • Fostering a close working partnership with iwi

  • Working in partnership with stakeholders, landholders and community

  • Sharing our story

Benchmarks of Living Water’s success


During the first 16 months, we have focused on setting up an enduring programme to achieve biodiversity and water improvements through practical community solutions.

Key programme achievements include:

  1. Establishment of programme scope, vision, governance and regional teams.

  2. Completing ecosystem health and restoration opportunity investigations at all sites.

  3. Preparing three-year strategic plans (2015-18) for each site with input from iwi, farmers and local partners. 

  4. Fostering close working relationships with stakeholders including farmers, iwi, councils and environmental care groups.

  5. Implementation of 16 diverse start-up projects, including research work to trial new solutions and develop best practice (eg: nitrogen filter trial; wetland reconstruction; drain rehabilitation; tuna habitat design)

  6. Fostering international collaboration through the East Australasian Flyway partnership between NZ & China at Pūkorokoro/Miranda.

Next steps for further improvements to water quality


Key programme focus for upcoming years is on-the-ground implementation, delivering tangible biodiversity and water quality improvements at the selected sites, including:

  • Deepening working relationships with stakeholders and the wider community

  • Implementation of strategic and operational site plans and establishing baselines for measuring change/improvements

  • Local community participation in programme activities such as riparian planting and educational initiatives to grow community understanding of conservation

  • Activities with universities, the science community and others to trial science and innovation to improve water quality and drain management on farms.

  • Develop further national projects and themes (eg: on-farm wetland restoration; tuna habitat enhancement; drain rehabilitation; ecosystem services analysis and application).

Learn about the Living Water partnership.

“Working with Fonterra is one of a number of critical key business partnerships for the Department. Together, the two organisations can demonstrate that the application of robust ecosystems and pastoral science can improve natural condition while maintaining farm profitability.”
Lou Sanson
Director-General, Department of Conservation
“Our Living Water partnership with the Department of Conservation is an important part of Fonterra’s long term commitment to responsible dairying. The dairy industry depends on healthy fresh water systems and we are committed to working with our farmers, communities and others in the primary sector to develop sustainable solutions for improving and maintaining the healthy of New Zealand’s waterways."
Theo Spierings
Former Chief Executive Officer, Fonterra