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​Survey reveals New Zealanders have major concerns about water quality


20 September 2017

A nationwide survey has revealed that the majority of New Zealanders are concerned about pollution and the impacts of climate change and intensive agriculture on water quality.

The survey, undertaken by Water New Zealand, also found that most New Zealanders want to see charging for water extraction, particularly by water bottlers and other commercial interests as well as the agricultural sector.

The New Zealand Water Consumer Survey 2017 is a nationwide poll of almost 5000 people and seeks to gauge what New Zealanders think about critical issues associated with water.

It has found that most people are very concerned about drinking water quality in New Zealand though they believe that their water supplier provides high quality drinking water. These results differ across the country and people in urban areas have most confidence while confidence declines in regional centres and in rural areas.

The majority of respondents are concerned about poor water quality in their waterways, particularly litter and floating plastics, as well as sewer overflows.

Water New Zealand CEO, John Pfahlert says that across the country there are concerns about the future of water and its availability.

“People understand how extraction, climate issues and pollution are impacting on our water resources and the quality of waterways.”

Half the respondents believed that local and national governments do not work together to make the right decisions for New Zealand’s water resources and one in three people are uncertain that drinking water providers adequately plan for the future.

As well as attitudes and values, the survey set out to understand how New Zealanders, as consumers, rated their own regional water supplier.

It found that environmental concerns are a key driver for saving water and only nine percent are not concerned about saving water. But it also found that, particularly in Auckland where water and wastewater is charged on a volumetric basis, saving money outranks environmental concerns as a motivator for water saving.

Mr Pfahlert says the survey shows that New Zealanders would prefer to pay for how much water they use instead of a service charge in their rates.

“The survey aims to provide water service providers including local and central government with a deeper understanding of customers’ views and understanding of water issues.

“This will help the development of relevant and sustainable policies around water and especially provide water service providers with evidence to help transitioning to a more customer-centric focus.

“To make the findings particularly useful, we have developed an online tool which will enable a “slice and dice’ approach to information so that we can easily see demographic and regional differences to the findings.”

The survey was undertaken by consultant Arup and the results presented at the Water New Zealand conference in Hamilton today.

Key findings

Drinking water

  • eighty-nine percent (89%) are somewhat to very concerned about drinking water quality in New Zealand.
  • Four in five respondents (83%) are confident that their water suppliers provide high quality drinking water. The level of confidence varies depending on the participant’s environment. Eighty-seven percent (87%) of respondents in urban areas selected “good” or “very good”. This reduces to sixty-four percent (64%) for those in rural areas.
  • Almost half of respondents in rural or regional areas (42%) experience changes in the look, taste or smell of their drinking water. In urban areas urban areas 37 percent experienced changes in water quality.

Water shortages and saving

  • More than four out of every five respondents (86%) were somewhat to very concerned about water shortage in the whole of New Zealand. Concern for water shortage across the country is widespread.
  • Saving water is a high priority and the main driver to save water is to do “their bit for the environment” with four out of five (83%) selecting this option.
  • Auckland, where water and wastewater is generally charged on a volumetric basis, is the only region where the motivator of saving money is higher than environmental concern
  • Three in five respondents (63%) agree that they would prefer to pay for how much water they use rather than a fixed charge in their rates

Water charging

  • Nine out of ten people want to see a charge for extracting water from the environment for bottling or similar. Three in five people (59%) believe that there should be a cost when taking water from the environment for all users and nine in ten (89%) respondents agree that there should be a cost when taking water from the environment for bottled water and similar industries.
  • More than three quarters (77 percent) believe there should be a cost when taking water from the environment for agriculture and horticulture
  • 58% believe that water suppliers provide high quality customer service. This is lower in regional centres (53%) and rural and small communities (49%) and significantly higher (76%) in our largest urban area, Auckland.

Climate change

  • More than four in five respondents (85%) are somewhat to very concerned about climate change impacts, with the same proportion of people somewhat to very concerned about flooding and seventy-four percent (74%) somewhat to very concerned about drought.
  • Half of the respondents (50%) believe that local and national governments do not work together to make the right decisions for New Zealand’s water resources.
  • One in three (36%) respondents are uncertain that drinking water providers adequately plan for the future.

Water quality

  • Three in every four people (73%) are concerned about poor water quality in their waterways. Forty-three percent (43%) would pay more to have better quality waterways and sixty-nine percent (69%) believe councils should invest more to improve waterway quality.
  • Eight five percent are somewhat to very concerned about intensive agricultural and horticultural impact on water

Pollution

  • Eighty-three percent (83%) of respondents stated that litter and floating plastics were the pollutants in their local area that concerned them the most, closely.

Go here for the national survey report and the data tool to see a breakdown of the survey findings across regional, age and gender demographics.