ESR | Keeping people safe and healthy through science

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Water quality and sanitation

Get in touch to find out how we can help with your water quality

ESR provides health authorities, local and central government, industry and communities with scientific advice and expertise on the management of drinking water, groundwater, recreational water and wastewater.

Our work includes the surveillance and reporting of drinking-water quality, scientific advice on health and environment public policy, research on water quality issues related to drinking water and recreational waters and information systems management.

Our experts also work with other organisations in the Centre for Integrated Biowaste Research (external link) (external link) (CIBR) on the sustainable management of the biowaste component among the approximately 3.2 million tonnes of waste sent to landfills in New Zealand each year.

Waterborne outbreak investigations

ESR's water scientists can identify a range of waterborne pathogens within a water sample and can link the bacteria to those found in another source such as cattle, sheep or poultry. Using sequencing facilities on-site we can determine the complete picture of microbes present in a water sample and the impact of activities, such as discharges, on the health of the microbial community present.

Tracking faecal sources

When waterways become contaminated with faeces, identifying the source of the pollution is an important part of the contamination management strategy. ESR has a range of molecular and chemical techniques that help to identify sources of faecal contamination of water, whether they are from farms, domestic or feral animals, humans or birds. For example, if an initial test indicates high levels of E. coli, we undertake one or more assays from our ‘toolbox’ of methods. We then develop a strategy for determining the most  efficient way to identify the likely faecal contamination source, which includes a ‘decision tree’ outlining the steps to obtaining the most relevant information for the least financial outlay. We have an excellent record of helping local government staff with water management responsibilities to manage and reduce water pollution levels.

Water sampling Christchurch

Drinking water supply and quality

With backgrounds in public health, microbiology, environmental radioactivity and chemistry, our scientists help clients to understand the quality of their drinking water and the implications of that quality for water treatment.

Our clients benefit from our direct involvement in preparing New Zealand’s drinking-water standards. Our responsibility to provide the Ministry of Health with annual reports of compliance with those standards, means we can advise clients on interpreting the standards and the next steps required for compliance, as well as help develop resources to address public health risks associated with water supplies.

In addition, we help those clients with major water-related responsibilities to manage large water-supply and water-quality datasets. With more than a decade’s experience in summarising and reporting on such datasets, we can help clients make sense and benefit from the data.

Groundwater quality and management

Through an in-depth, research driven understanding of groundwater contamination processes, our team of groundwater scientists helps clients to identify and address issues associated with landuse intensification and its effects on groundwater quality. We also design tools for water managers to enable them to assess, predict and minimise the impacts of land use, and landuse changes, on groundwater quality. 

We also undertake a national assessment of pesticide in groundwater, mainly on behalf of regional and district councils. We also undertake more general, ‘on-request’ assessments of regional groundwater quality for councils.

Surface water assessments

Our experts can assess the quality of surface and recreational waters and determine the cause of water pollution, including differentiating between sources of pollution. Our work includes developing monitoring and reporting programmes, applying bacterial and viral tracers to mark and follow effluent plumes, and conducting microbial risk assessments on discharges.


Find out more about our water quality work (external link) .