Future of Clean Water

How do we structure the water system to ensure the future nutritional value of water is retained?
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New Zealand has some of the cleanest water resources in the developed world and has an abundant supply with only 2% of its resources directed towards consumptive use. However, both the quality and quantity of its freshwater resources are changing in important ways.

One of the key detriments to the quality of water is farm runoff, which has been responsible for introducing chemical fertilizers - mainly nitrogen and phosphate - into open water and aquifers. If not used appropriately, these nutrients can create on and off site nutrient pollution in the form of water quality issues and discharges to the air (including greenhouse gases). At the same time, sufficient nitrogen and phosphate are required to optimize agricultural production. Increasing the complexity of the challenge, both nutrients are derived from increasingly scarce resources (i.e., fossil oil and phosphate rock). This is a key issue for New Zealand and other developed economies.


Nutrient runoff into freshwater reserves (related to greenhouse gas emissions) is of strategic importance to New Zealand. The government has been committed to controlling the nature of agricultural nutrients to better influence the future of its freshwater resources. In doing so, they can offer strategies for the rest of the developed and developing world to adopt.

The issue represents a multi-stakeholder challenge that calls for a shift in behavior, mindsets, accepted practices, policies, and regulations. It also falls in a class of challenge where current practices and legitimate demands from growth-related objectives are at odds with the environmental and climate-related issues.


A team was tasked with creating a strategy to influence behavior of all the key stakeholders involved – including farmers, landowners, wildlife enthusiasts, state and local government officials – so that the future of the quality of the water as related to agricultural nutrients is significantly improved compared to its current trajectory.

The situation was approached at the level of the multi-stakeholder ecosystems. The team made strategic recommendations to initiate large-scale behavior change resulting in alternate patterns for nutrient use to maximize production and optimize food security, while minimizing pollution.

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