The Waipounamu Groundwater Management Zone (GMZ) covers an area of approximately 1,750 ha on the lower alluvial terrace running along the true left (northern) riparian margin of the Mataura River, between Ardlussa and the Waikaia River confluence.
Topography: flat-lying alluvial terrace.
Main surface water catchments: Mataura River
Boundaries – extend between the channel of the Mataura River to the south, and a northern boundary that approximates a transition in the geology and hydraulic properties of the Quaternary alluvial deposits.
The Waipounamu GMZ occupies a narrow, elongate section of the lower (Q2) alluvial terrace extending along the riparian margin of the Mataura River, between Ardlussa and the Waikaia River confluence.
Aquifer type: Riparian
The Waipounamu GMZ occupies a narrow, elongate section of the lower (Q2) alluvial terrace on the true left (northern) bank of the Mataura River downstream of Ardlussa. The subsurface geology of this area comprises a thin (generally <15 metres thick) layer of alluvial materials reworked by the Mataura River over the late Quaternary Period. These alluvial materials comprise coarse, poorly sorted sandy gravels that are underlain by older Quaternary alluvium containing a higher percentage of fine material (fine sand and silt) in the gravel matrix (see diagram below).
The Waipounamu GMZ is distinguished from the Wendonside GMZ, which covers the northern half of the Q2 terrace. The shallow alluvial deposits (10 to 15 metres thick) of the Wendonside GMZ comprise claybound alluvium that is underlain by a layer of coarse sandy gravels. This is almost the reverse of the geology occurring the in Waipounamu GMZ.
The Quaternary alluvial deposits are underlain by lignite measure sediments of the East Southland Group. These sediments comprise thick layers of carbonaceous mudstone interspersed with irregular layers of sand, gravel and lignite. The thickness of the alluvial deposits varies across the zone, possibly reflecting paleo-topography developed on the upper surface of the underlying Tertiary sediments. In particular, the gravel deposits thin-out over underlying Tertiary lignite measure sediments toward the Waikaia River confluence.
Basement rocks underlying the Waipounamu GNZ comprise semi-schist of the Caples Terrane and volcaniclastic sediments of the Dun Mountain-Maitai Terrace, which are separated by the Livingstone Fault.
The Waipounamu GMZ is overlain by thin, free draining alluvial soils formed along the margins of the Mataura River .
The shallow alluvial deposits of the Waipounamu GMZ host a high yielding alluvial unconfined aquifer system that is hydraulically connected to the Mataura River. The deeper alluvial deposits are typically lower yielding.
Groundwater levels in the Waipounamu GMZ typically range between 2 and 3 metres below ground level. Seasonal groundwater level variation in typically between 1.0 and 1.5 metres following temporal variations in rainfall recharge, but also showing some response to high flow events in the Mataura River.
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 Waipounamu GMZ.
- Mean residence time is likely to be less than 2 years close to the Mataura River
Depth to groundwater
- 2 to 3 metres below ground level
Seasonal groundwater variation
- 1.0 to 1.5 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 Waipounamu GMZ is derived from infiltration of local rainfall and throughflow of groundwater from the Wendonside GMZ to the north. The unconfined aquifer system is also hydraulically connected to the Mataura River, with flow exchange occurring with the unconfined aquifer depending on relative river and groundwater levels.
- Average annual rainfall recharge: 190 mm per year
- Average annual rainfall recharge volume: 3.3 million m3 per year
A majority of groundwater discharge occurs via baseflow to the Mataura River and the lower reaches of the Waikaia River, a majority of which may occur towards the Waikaia River confluence.
Groundwater flow in the Waipounamu GMZ generally occurs in a south-easterly direction, sub-parallel to the Mataura River. At a local scale, groundwater flow may occur obliquely toward the Mataura and Waikaia Rivers, depending on relative surface and groundwater levels.
Abstraction and water use
Groundwater is utilised for domestic and farm water supply in the Waipounamu GMZ. Groundwater abstraction also 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
Natural groundwater quality in the Waipounamu GMZ is generally good, however some areas now show moderate levels of contamination from land use activities. Groundwater generally contains low concentrations of dissolved ions. Hardness and iron concentrations are low. Nitrate concentrations are generally diluted by high groundwater throughflow.
The well drained soils of the Waipounamu GMZ have limited potential to attenuate contaminants infiltrating from the land surface.
Groundwater nitrate concentrations are generally low, reflecting the high rate of groundwater throughflow, which increases the potential for attenuation of nutrients infiltrating through the well-drained soils. However, the rapid rate of groundwater flow has the potential to rapidly export nutrients to surface water.
Phosphorus is typically strongly bound to soils.
Microbial contamination of groundwater is typically limited by natural attenuation in the soil zone and underlying aquifers. The potential for localised microbial contamination of groundwater may be elevated due to the well-drained soils and the high rate of groundwater flow, which can transport contaminants rapidly through the unconfined aquifer.
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 pathway for contamination to reach groundwater in this zone is via deep drainage.
Water quality state summary
Redox state: oxidising
Nitrate: low to moderate
Microbial contamination: low
Major ions: hardness is low, iron concentrations are low
Water quality - human health
Main issues in this zone
- Nitrate: Groundwater quality in this zone is at risk of elevated nitrate concentrations and microbial contamination.
- Microbial contamination: The high rate of groundwater flow in this zone has the potential to rapidly transport nutrients 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.