Indicators at a glance - recreational water quality

This section summarises the latest Environmental Health Indicators about recreational water quality and water-borne disease in New Zealand. 


Recreational water contaminated with pathogens (such as bacteria and viruses) can cause water-related diseases, particularly gastrointestinal illnesses. Animal manure and human sewage are the main sources of pathogens in New Zealand waterways .

Faecal matter from livestock can contaminate waterways through: (1) surface run-off of faecal matter into waterways, (2) livestock defecating directly into waterways, and (3) leaching into groundwater.  

Indicator Key findings
  • Total livestock numbers dropped by 25% from 2002 to 2019, mostly due to a decrease in sheep numbers.
  • Dairy cattle are the only livestock type to have become more numerous. Numbers rose by almost a quarter from 2002 to 2019, from 5.2 million in 2002 to 6.3 million in 2019.
Water-borne diseases related to recreational water
  • There were over 9,500 notified cases of campylobacteriosis, giardiasis and cryptosporidiosis in 2016. 
  • In 2016, 212 of these cases reported contact with recreational water (river, lake or sea) as a risk factor. 
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