High levels of bacterial pollution from cattle are flowing into Te Waikoropupū Reserve.  The pollution mixes with the waters of Fish Spring and travels via Fish Creek right through the Reserve.  Bacterial counts are often in the tens of thousands, meaning that contact with the water would be hazardous.  Friends of Golden Bay has brought the facts to the attention of TDC and Fonterra.
TDC has replied that they do not have a rule that directly addresses diffuse discharges from stock excrement … or controls on stocking density or specific land use practice that can be enforced
Fonterra acknowledged the problem two years ago and stated good intentions to resolve it, but in reality it has deteriorated further.


We say it’s a disgrace to pollute our national treasures like this, and it reflects badly on the dairy industry as a whole.


Read on for the rest of the story.


The Basic Facts.

Faecal bacteria come from the guts of animals. They pass out with the faeces and mostly die after a while in the colder outside conditions. Meanwhile, during wet weather they can be washed into creeks and rivers and travel considerable distances. Many varieties are harmless, but some are not. If those ones are picked up by people they can cause anything from diarrhoea to death (remember Havelock) so they are to be taken seriously.


E. coliA cluster of E. coli bacteria. Eric Erbe/Christopher Pooley, USDA

The almost universally used test for faecal contamination of water is a test for Escherichia coli (or E.coli), a species of bacterium that is commonly found in the lower intestine of warm-blooded animals. A small sample of water is sent to a lab, which reports the result as the ‘most probable number’ of E.coli per 100 ml (written as ‘MPN / 100 ml’). The NZ water quality standards require essentially no E.coli for drinking water; the current standard for ‘recreational contact’ with water (swimming for example) is below 540 E. coli per 100 ml.

A cluster of E. coli bacteria >



Fish Creek.

Click map to expand >

A few years ago the Department of Conservation helpfully set up a water supply from Fish Creek for visitors at Waikoropupū Springs car park, but several people reported ill effects from it.  DoC found it was contaminated with E.coli and had to remove it.  Since 2016 FoGB members noticed while collecting samples for nitrate analysis that Fish Creek sometimes had an unsavoury quality so we decided to run some tests of our own. Initially we tested several places in the Reserve.  We found no E.coli in the Main Spring, almost none in Fish Spring, but substantial levels in Fish Creek.  Our samples are tested by Cawthron Institute and collected in bottles provided by the lab.


Since then we have monitored Fish Creek and another small water channel that runs into the Reserve. TDC staff asked us to collect a larger sample which they had analysed and determined the E.coli were from ‘ruminants’ i.e. cattle in this case, as opposed to -say- pigs, birds or people. Most of the Fish Creek catchment above the Springs Reserve is in bush but a small part is in pasture. We were able to obtain water samples from the creek above the farms, and found low levels of E.coli there, even when the creek was swollen during rainfall.



The E.coli Test Results

The table below summarises our test results.  Units of E.coli are MPN / 100 ml.  Figures in red are above the recreational guideline.  For each sampling occasion we include the rainfall over the previous 12 hours and a brief comment on the conditions at the time.

A formal report on the E.coli pollution is available for download.


Further Action

Friends of Golden Bay has repeatedly brought the E.coli results to the attention of TDC.  TDC helped by identifying the source of the bacteria as ‘from ruminants’.  We understand it also assisted a farm to fence off waterways adjacent to the Reserve.  However, as the ongoing high test results show, the problem is far from fixed.

The law makes a distinction between ‘point source’ and ‘diffuse’ pollution.  For example farms are not allowed to pour their dairy shed effluent down a pipe into the nearest creek; that would be a point source pollution which is illegal.  But when the cows deposit their stuff all over the paddock and the rain washes it into the creek, that’s a diffuse source pollution.  On that matter we have a frank answer from TDC.  “We do not however, have a discharge rule that directly addresses diffuse discharges from stock excrement to land (ie paddocks) and subsequent discharge of E.coli in receiving environments or controls on stocking density or specific land use practice that can be enforced. This is an issue for all regional and unitary councils”.

TDC commented further:  “We are planning event-based sampling in the Fish Creek catchment over 3 years as part of the project to establish constructed wetlands on farms in collaboration with NIWA. We have support from DairyNZ for the design, equipment and installation, but limits on Council resourcing means we could not achieve more than one of these event-based monitoring projects in a given decade.”  However NIWA recently informed that the projected time for starting construction of the wetlands has been delayed until early next calendar year.


We also brought the E.coli results to the attention of Fonterra, who replied in May 2017.  They acknowledged there were significant levels of E.coli and undertook, we believe sincerely, that they would identify any potential point source discharges of sediment and/or pathogens into Fish Creek; and identify instances where additional riparian management measures (beyond stock exclusion) would have a significant improvement on water quality.  The letter continued  “Where these are identified, we will agree and document timeframes with the land owner and provide support towards implementation.”  Friends of Golden Bay believe the intentions were good and we hoped to see an improvement as we continued monitoring, but as can be seen from the test results above, things appear to have got worse.



Waikoropupū Reserve is fabled for the clarity and purity of its water. It’s a national treasure and is visited by 90,000 people a year.  Friends of Golden Bay has identified and carefully documented its pollution by faecal bacteria over two years.  We have given the facts to TDC and Fonterra.

In reply we have only good intentions and excuses.  “We do not have a rule” — “the project is delayed” — “only funding for one project in a given dacade” — “We will agree and document timeframes” but the problem persists.  The upstream businesses continue to take the profits and dump costs on the community and the environment.

How bad does it have to get?  Hopefully we don’t have to see warning notices like this beside our springs.  Come on People!  No more excuses.  It’s time to fix the problem.