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 2018, mostly due to a decrease in sheep numbers.
  • Dairy cattle numbers increased by almost a quarter from 2002 to 2018, from 5.2 million in 2002 to 6.4 million in 2018.
Suitability for swimming
  • In 2012–13, 50% of monitored freshwater sites were ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ quality. These sites were often not suitable for swimming.
  •  In 2012–13, 13% of monitored coastal sites were ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ quality. Most coastal sites were usually suitable for swimming. 
Water-borne diseases related to recreational water
  • There were over 9500 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.