The Waimea Plains Groundwater Management Zone (GMZ) covers an area of approximately 19,700 ha encompassing the catchment of the Waimea Stream, which extends west of Mandeville to the margins of the Oreti River south of Lumsden.
Topography: extensive flat to undulating alluvial terrace
Main surface water catchments: Waimea Stream, Longridge Stream
Boundaries – follow the flat-lying areas of the Waimea Plains, which form part of the Waimea Stream catchment
The Waimea Plains GMZ occupies a broad sequence of alluvial terraces that comprise the Waimea Plains, which are east of the Oreti River, between the Mataura Range to the north and the Hokonui Hills to the south. The terrace surface is drained by an extensive network of lower-order streams that drain into the Waimea Stream.
Aquifer type: Lowland
The Waimea Plains occupy a broad alluvial valley extending eastward from the current alignment of the Oreti River south of Lumsden. The valley is defined to the north by the foothills of the Mataura Range and to the south by the Hokonui Hills. East of Balfour the boundary of the Waimea Plains GMZ follows a bedrock ridge that crosses the eastern end of the Waimea Plains following a north-west/south-east alignment towards Mandeville.
The Waimea Plains comprise a sequence of Quaternary alluvial terraces formed along the historical alignment of the Oreti River before it was diverted to its current alignment through the Hokonui Hills south of Josephville during the late Quaternary.
West of Glenure the alluvial deposits comprise a broad Q6 terrace that has been reworked along late Quaternary overflow channels from the Oreti River. These overflow channels comprise flat-lying elongate (Q4) terraces extending to the Oreti River. East of Glenure, the Waimea Plains GMZ narrows along the active channel of the Waimea Stream, which is incised into the older Q6 terrace surface. Alluvial fan deposits extend northwards from the base of the Hokonui Hills and interfinger with the Quaternary alluvium. The thickness of the Quaternary deposits generally increases toward the northern side of the valley from less than 20 metres along the base of the Hokonui Hills to over 40 metres in the St Patricks area (see diagram below).
The Quaternary alluvium is underlain by Tertiary sediments of the East Southland Group. West of Balfour the alluvial deposits overlie sediments of the Gore Lignite Measures, which comprise mudstone interspersed with isolated layers of lignite, sand and gravel. Limestone and sandstone sediments of the Chatton and Forest Hill formations are exposed in the Sandstone area.
Basement rocks underlying the Waimea Plains GNZ comprise sandstone of the Dun Mountain-Maitai Terrace. The basement rocks exhibit significant structure due to structural deformation along a complex fault system. Basement rocks crop out (or occur close to the land surface) along a ridge running from Balfour to Mandeville as well as at various locations along the base of the Hokonui Hills and towards the western end of the Waimea Plains.
Soils toward the western end of the Waimea Plains and along the margins of the Waimea Stream tend to be poorly drained while large areas of the remnant Q6 terrace are overlain by moderately well to well drained soils formed in loess deposits.
The primary groundwater in the Waimea Plains GMZ is hosted in the Quaternary gravel alluvial deposits. These materials host a shallow, unconfined aquifer system that typically exhibits moderate to low permeability reflecting the amount of silt and clay present in the gravel matrix. A deeper moderate yielding semi-confined aquifer is also present along the central axis of the Waimea Plains to the west of St Patricks.
Groundwater levels in the Waimea Plains GMZ typically range between 1 and 5 metres below ground level. Groundwater levels are generally shallow (<2 m below ground level) towards the western end of the Waimea Plains, becoming deeper under the Q6 terrace surface south of Balfour. Seasonal groundwater level variation is typically between 1.5 to 2.5 metres following temporal variations in rainfall recharge. Groundwater levels may also vary on an inter-annual basis reflecting longer-term rainfall patterns.
A limited confined aquifer resource is hosted in sand and gravel lenses of the Tertiary Gore Lignite Measures.
The diagram below depicts a generalised conceptual hydrogeological understanding of the Waimea Plains GMZ.
- Mean residence time ranges from 4 to 12 years
Depth to groundwater
- Between 1 to 5 metres below ground level, becoming shallower toward the western end of the Waimea Plains
Seasonal groundwater variation
- 1.5 to 2.5 metres
Recharge and discharge
The movement of water into (recharge) and out of (discharge) the shallow unconfined aquifer resource for this zone is depicted below.
Groundwater recharge in the Waimea Plains GMZ is derived from infiltration of local rainfall and infiltration of runoff from the surrounding hills.
- Average annual rainfall recharge: 180 mm per year
- Average annual rainfall recharge volume: 35 million m3 per year
A majority of groundwater discharge occurs via baseflow to the surface drainage network. This drainage is augmented by artificial drainage networks on poorly drained soils, particularly toward the western end of the Waimea Plains, which historically comprised extensive wetland areas.
Groundwater flow in the Waimea Plains GMZ generally occurs in a south-easterly direction following the overall drainage pattern of the Waimea Plains. At a local scale, groundwater flow may occur obliquely toward reaches of the surface water drainage network that are gaining, particularly toward the Glenure area.
Abstraction and water use
Groundwater is utilised for domestic and farm water supply in the Waimea Plains GMZ. Some abstraction occurs for irrigation.
Historically, Southland has had an abundance of water, with modest limits on use being appropriate. There has been increasing demand for the use of water for a variety of activities. Environment Southland has a framework for managing groundwater abstraction in Southland.
Potential effects of abstraction
There are a range of environmental effects that could result from the abstraction of groundwater in this management zone. Examples of potential effects are highlighted below:
More information about these effects is available in our guide to groundwater ecosystem health monitoring.
Water quality pressures
Groundwater quality in the Waimea Plains GMZ is variable. Groundwater generally contains low concentrations of dissolved ions. Hardness is low while iron concentrations are variable, particularly in areas overlain by poorly drained soils toward the western end of the Waimea Plains. Nitrate concentrations are variable, largely reflecting spatial variation in soil drainage characteristics.
Differences in soil drainage characteristics have a major influence on water quality in the Waimea Plains GMZ. Poorly drained soils toward the western end of the Waimea Plains GMZ have an elevated potential to attenuate nitrate concentrations via denitrification. However, well drained soils overlying the older Q6 terrace have limited potential to attenuate nitrate concentrations in soil drainage.
Groundwater nitrate concentrations are low to moderate toward the western end of the Waimea Plains reflecting denitrification occurring in poorly drained soils overlying much of this area. The poorly drained nature of these soils does however increase the potential for contaminant losses via the artificial drainage used to maintain agricultural productivity.
In contrast groundwater nitrate concentrations are very high under much of the Q6 alluvial terrace south of Balfour and commonly exceed the standards for potable supply. Elevated nitrate concentrations in this area reflect a combination of the limited denitrification potential of overlying soils combined with the slow rate of groundwater throughflow and lack of low nutrient recharge input from surface water.
Phosphorus is typically strongly bound to soils but can be mobilized more readily in poorly drained soils where artificial drainage is used.
Microbial contamination of groundwater is typically limited by natural attenuation in the soil zone and underlying aquifers. The potential for microbial contamination of groundwater in the Waimea Plains GMZ is limited by a combination of poorly drained soils and the slow rate of groundwater throughflow.
The potential for microbial contamination of groundwater supplies can be reduced by locating wells and bores away from local sources of pollution and ensuring good wellhead protection.
The main pathways for contamination to reach groundwater in this zone are via deep drainage (left) and artificial drainage (right).
Water quality state summary
Redox state: oxidising to mixed
Nitrate: low to very high, elevated risk under the Q6 alluvial terrace across the zone
Microbial contamination: low, but risk can be elevated close to source
Major ions: hardness is low, iron concentrations are generally low but can be slightly elevated in areas toward the western end of the Waimea Plains
Water quality - human health
Main issues in this zone
- Nitrate: The risk of elevated nitrate concentrations is greater under Q6 alluvial terraces in the Balfour area.
- Microbial contamination: Groundwater quality in this zone is at risk of elevated nitrate concentrations and microbial contamination.
Disclaimer: This Information Sheet describes the typical average properties of the specified groundwater zone. It is essentially a summary of information obtained from drilling records, consent applications and investigation surveys. It has been prepared in good faith by trained staff within time and budgetary limits. However, no responsibility or liability can be taken for the accuracy of the information and interpretations. Advice should be sought from Environment Southland, drilling companies or other experts before making decisions on individual sites. The characteristics of the groundwater at a specific location may differ in some details from those described here.