04 November 2016

Bay of Plenty Regional Council congratulates the Waitao community on winning the 2016 Morgan Foundation National River Story award.

The Waitao Stream story won the award on November 3 thanks to the community’s collective efforts to improve the health of the stream and estuary. This work involves planting stream banks and wetlands, clearing weeds and rubbish, and keeping stock away from the water.

The regional council has provided assistance for Nga Potiki, Ngāti  Pūkenga and other landowners in the catchment to fence and plant along the river, helped by environment group members. It also monitors the water closely and works to ensure farmers upstream keep their stock out of the bush and away from waterways. Regional council Tauranga catchments manager Sarah Omundsen says it’s great to be able to offer practical advice and funding support that helps people to take care of their land and water.

“It’s a win-win; they’re securing the health of their stock, family and business and the environment is better for it.

“The success of this collaborative approach results in improvements in the health of Bay of Plenty waterways. What happens on the land affects the water, and the quality of water affects the whole community. We work collaboratively with iwi, community groups and landowners to manage land sustainably. The Waitao Stream, which runs into the harbour, is a great example of this collaboration,” Sarah says.

Work to improve water quality in the Waitao Stream began in 2003, when Ngati Pūkenga joined forces with NIWA and the NZ Landcare Trust to design and implement Te Awa o Waitao restoration project.  This involved clearing weeds and rubbish from wetlands close to the marae on the estuary, and securing funding to fence and plant the land. A kaitiaki was appointed to help collect monthly water samples and 12 sites have since been monitored for temperature, clarity, pH and conductivity.

In 2008 upstream communities joined the fight to restore the Waitao. Volunteers from the Waitao Landcare Group now run three small nurseries, sourcing local seed and raising several thousand plants a year, which are then planted along the riverbank. They have working bees once a fortnight. All stock has also been moved from a wetland between the two marae on the estuary, and 10,000 plants will be planted in the next three years to bring the wetland back to health.

These activities have resulted in better water quality. Long-term monitoring shows clarity has improved, unhelpful nutrient levels have reduced, and NIWA monitoring has found 15 species of fish and invertebrates.  There is still much to do, however. The swimming hole at Kaiate Falls remains closed due to e.coli contamination, and the community and council are working hard to turn this around.

Positive progress can only happen when everyone along a river works together, Sarah says.

The annual National River Story award recognises inspirational river stories – examples of a community or an individual working hard to restore the health of their local river.