LAND, AIR, WATER AOTEAROA (LAWA)
Response to comments made by Dr Mike Joy, Newshub Nation interview 24/11/2018
Partners of New Zealand’s official environmental data website Land, Air, Water Aotearoa (LAWA) reject comments made by
Victoria University IGPS Senior Researcher Dr Mike Joy about the character of the LAWA project, as part of a wider
interview on Newshub Nation over the weekend.
Below is a summary of the LAWA project and statements from LAWA project partners follow.
The LAWA project aims to connect New Zealanders with their environment through the sharing of environmental land, air,
and water data. It was launched in 2014 as part of a wider programme to improve environmental monitoring and reporting
in New Zealand.
Information shown on the LAWA website is collected by scientists from regional and unitary councils and crown research
institutes. Cawthron Institute independently verifies the collection, analysis, and statistical interpretation of water
quality and quantity results presented. LAWA datasets are incredibly comprehensive, for example there are now nearly
1,500 freshwater sites on the LAWA website, including sites monitoring both upstream and downstream of point source
As the project and technology has evolved, so have opportunities to generate and share more information. LAWA now has
multi-year trends available for some environmental measures and six public friendly modules, including the popular
recreational summer swimming tool, ‘Can I Swim Here?’.
Cawthron Freshwater Sciences Group Manager, Dr Roger Young
“By sharing data with the public through LAWA, councils do not ‘report on themselves’, because here at Cawthron
Institute we independently verify the processes and methods used by regional and unitary councils for data collection,
laboratory analysis of samples collected, and the statistical analysis and interpretation of the results presented.
“The nine parameters LAWA released 10-year trends for in October, including nitrogen, are widely recognised indicators
of water quality. We recognise that freshwater monitoring and reporting evolves over time, and these water quality
indicators can only provide part of the picture about the health of river systems. There are other measures such as the
prevalence of toxic algae (cyanobacteria), periphyton, and fish and aquatic plant abundance which collectively can tell
us even more about the health of a particular waterway and the LAWA website is showing more of this information as it
LAWA Project Chair, Stephen Woodhead
“The Land, Air, Water Aotearoa (LAWA) project has achieved a lot over the past five years and continues to innovate the
environmental data sharing space. The LAWA website presents huge datasets in the form of six interactive modules across
land, air, and water topics. LAWA.org.nz
has been viewed over 2 million times and this is testament to the teams of scientists, developers, and statisticians
who do their bit to make it happen.
“The project is a major undertaking, so it was disappointing to see Mike Joy misrepresent it over the weekend. Through
LAWA we’re improving access to quality-assured environmental data; this means more New Zealanders can make better
decisions based on up-to-date monitoring results.
“We stand by the data collected and published on LAWA. We make water quality monitoring results available for over one
thousand sites across the country, and Cawthron Institute independently validates this process. The data is used by
other major organisations, including Ministry for the Environment, and we make it all available for download from the
LAWA website should anyone want to explore the datasets further. This is an incredibly transparent process.”
Ministry for the Environment Deputy Secretary, Strategy and Stewardship, Natasha Lewis
“LAWA is part of the wider Environmental Monitoring and Reporting (EMaR) project designed to improve the quality and
consistency of the collection, availability, and presentation of New Zealand’s environmental data. EMaR is partnership
between the Ministry for the Environment, Stats NZ, Cawthron Institute and the Regional Councils. We will continue to
work with our project partners to keep improving data collection and analysis.
“LAWA is complementary to the Ministry’s and Stats NZ’s independent national environmental reporting series. We want all
New Zealanders to have information about the state of our environment. Environmental Reporting provides this at a
national level, while LAWA gives people up to date information about what is going on in their local area. For example,
the “Can I swim here?’ topic helps people understand local water conditions.”
Local Government New Zealand Regional Sector Chair, Doug Leeder
“Every year, New Zealand’s 16 regional and unitary councils support LAWA by sharing their environmental monitoring data,
because it is an extremely useful tool that our communities regularly use to monitor their natural environment, whether
it be air quality or the swimability of their local river.
“Regional council science teams are talented in their work and have a long history monitoring our environment. Cawthron
Institute, New Zealand’s oldest and largest independent research institute, partnered with the LAWA project to provide
independent scientific validation of regional council data. The LAWA website is world-leading in making this validated
data collected by local authorities, freely available to the public.
“We all want the same thing; improved fresh water for generations to come. To do this we need accurate data that is
independently audited and accessible from one source – that is what LAWA provides.”