In New Zealand, it is increasingly recognised, including by government, that water resource allocation and water quality are issues of national importance. Agriculture is frequently portrayed by public media as a major user of water and a major contributor to worsening water quality. We outline the water management systems in New Zealand, and the use of water by agriculture. Official reports on agriculture’s impact on New Zealand water availability and quality are summarised. We report how the New Zealand public perceive water, its management, and the roles of agriculture in water issues. Data from a nationwide mail survey were analysed to determine how New Zealanders assess the state of New Zealand lakes, rivers and streams, and aquifers, the performance of three agencies responsible for management of freshwater resources, and willingness to fund stream enhancement. We provide brief explanations for the failures of water resource management in New Zealand and report on options, including community-based responses that might address some of the mounting public, scientific, and government concerns about trends in water quantity and quality. A willingness to pay proposition, concerning riparian areas, included in the nationwide survey provides some evidence that the public are willing to pay for improved waterway management. Relevant non-market valuation studies also indicate that the public places considerable value on preservation values of water in New Zealand.