Freshwater ecosystem services

12 January 2023

Freshwater ecosystem services are benefits provided by waterbodies to people and the environment. Working with the Waikato Regional Council, a team of Scion scientists, in collaboration with other research providers, have been assessing freshwater ecosystem services in the Waikato region. The services include drinking water, agricultural use, power generation and recreation to name a few.

Values associated with these services contribute to human well-being but are not fully accounted for in monetary terms. Sometimes, financial returns are the main driver of land use decisions, which in tune could limit the range of these services.

The aim of this long-term project, which began in 2015, is to ensure that freshwater ecosystem services associated with waterbodies in the region are recognised, sustained and enhanced for their contributions to human well-being.

The first two phases of this project involved an assessment of a sample of waterbodies - rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands and geothermal reservoirs across the region to quantify ecosystem services as well as their values. In Phase 3, more waterbodies in the Ohinemuri catchment were assessed. In Phase 4, the impacts of land use change on water availability, an ecosystem service, was evaluated in a large section of the Waikato River catchment over a 17-year period. The study shows how land use change could be linked to changes in ecosystem services, specifically, water flow and yield and water for hydropower generation.

Knowledge from this project contributes to the council’s state of the environment reporting on what the community enjoys from these waterbodies, what services are being lost or at risk of being lost. This type of information could guide policies on protection, restoration and investment on natural capital in the region. There is also potential for this information to inform the implementation of the Government’s One Billion Trees initiative.