Stream health

Freshwater ecosystem health includes a waterway’s aquatic life, physical habitat, water quality and water flow patterns. This helps determine the overall state of the freshwater system. There are a range of indicators of ecosystem health in a waterway which include stream life, water quality and habitat.

There are a range of methods for assessing ecosystem health and quality of waterways. It can be valuable to do some checking yourself as well as engage a specialist to help with these assessments.

The Stream Health Check has been developed by Dr. Russell Death of Massey University to help farmers perform a visual assessment of the stream and its immediate surroundings.

In the videos below Dr Death will take you through how to do some of the key assessments from the Stream Health Check.

Video 1 – introduction to Freshwater Ecosystem Health

Dr. Death discusses the importance of freshwater health to farmers and the wider community and the relationship between management of the land and the potential impacts on freshwater health.

Video 2 – monitoring your stony bottom stream

Dr Death will take you through three key things he looks for in the waterways to help assess freshwater health. These include the level of fine sediment, the macroinvertebrates present and the level of algal growth.

Video 3 – Critical Source Areas

Freshwater ecosystem health can be impacted by the land forms around it. Dr Death will discuss what to look for in the surrounding areas which may impact on the health of the stream including critical source areas, stream banks, infrastructure and erodible areas.

Video 4 – further monitoring options

There are lots of ways to assess freshwater ecosystem health and Dr Death takes us through a number of different methods farmers can use to assess their waterway health in greater detail.

Whilst it is suggested the Stream Health Check is done in summer during low flows when the waterway is most stressed, it is also important to observe your waterways after heavy rain or adverse weather events as this may identify other unidentified critical source areas. It is also important to consider where you are in the catchment, a headwater stream can have good Ecological Health but could still carry contaminants that are higher than background levels and potentially have a cumulative effect on downstream receiving bodies.

The Stream Health Check is one of a number of ways you can assess Freshwater Ecosystem Health and you may want to incorporate further analysis into your Freshwater Monitoring Plan to provide more detail on any potential issues identified.

Other options include:

  • Stream Health Monitoring Assessment Kit (SHMAK)
  • Rapid Habitat Assessment
  • Water Quality Testing (at your local laboratory)
  • Wetland Assessment

Video 5 – what is stream ecological health?

In this recording Professor Russell Death of Massey University takes us through the Stream Health Check.  This is a simple tool designed to help farmers and others assess the ecological health of their streams.

Find out more

Further details on all of these can be found in the B+LNZ Freshwater Ecosystem Health Chapter of our Farm Plan.