Sunday, 29 May 2016 12:55

Stream work wins unlikely praise

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Farmer Bill Wilson admires the much improved Waikuku stream, one of two streams for which the Waikuku Water Management Group has won an Environmental Award from Fish & Game. Farmer Bill Wilson admires the much improved Waikuku stream, one of two streams for which the Waikuku Water Management Group has won an Environmental Award from Fish & Game.

Bill Wilson smiles as he looks down on the Waikuku Stream: below him is a superb example of a restored lowland Canterbury stream.

The efforts of Wilson and his fellow farmers have recently been recognised with an environmental award from Fish & Game.

The Waikuku Water Management Group is the first recipient of North Canterbury Fish & Game's 'Working with Nature Award' for outstanding efforts to improve local freshwater habitats. The award recognises what Fish & Game describes as the dedicated efforts of a number of farmers to protect and give back to the Waikuku Stream.

North Canterbury Fish & Game's environmental advisor Scott Pearson says the new award acknowledges a growing number of farmers who have taken their own steps to improve or protect streams and rivers near their properties.

"Fish & Game has been critical of the plight of many Canterbury streams and rivers, but at the same time we actively seek workable solutions to the problem. The awards are a great opportunity to celebrate some local success stories," Pearson says.

The group is delighted with the award. Its leader Bill Wilson says they are especially pleased to be the inaugural winners.

"The group felt it was time to pay back something to our waterways which have been such a benefit to their families. Our members have focused on 100% compliance with their effluent management, and getting recognition for their water management over several decades is hugely satisfying.

"We are delighted with Fish & Game's decision to institute the award to recognise suitable groups for their performance in helping the environment."

The group won the prize for devising an innovative way to decide who most needs the limited water available at any given time. This allocation is critical over the spring and summer periods when low flows in the Waikuku Stream require consented water users to carefully manage how much water they take.

By collectively sharing their water allocation, the group has found a solution that is more sustainable for both the environment and their farming operations.

Long-serving North Canterbury Fish & Game councillor Peter Robinson says the award winners are providing an important example for all Canterbury.

"What the group does sounds simple, but it's really quite ingenious. Instead of focusing on what resources they don't have, these farmers have pooled their water resources and worked together," Robinson explains.

The group has also extended its commitment to the environment with significant stream-side restoration and enhancement, planting thousands of trees and shrubs and fencing up to the Waikuku's springhead source.

Scott Pearson is impressed.

"The results speak for themselves. The salmon are now back in the Waikuku, with healthy numbers returning to spawn. All the more special is that this wonderful sight is now uncommon in lowland Canterbury streams," he says.

Bill Wilson puts the group's success down to a simple philosophy. "We work on the simple principle that it is better to work with people than against them. As a result, over the years we have been blessed with help from many people.

"In fact, one of the first was in the 1980s when professor Wally Clarke was involved with Fish & Game. We took him on a tour of our various projects and he proved to be a great mentor for our group. This tour exercise has been repeated many times with great effect," says Wilson.

Wilson also pays tribute to his group's members, a good bunch of North Canterbury farmers with a great attitude and team spirit.

North Canterbury Fish & Game is now organising a field trip in the coming spring to show the methods used by the group to other farmers. Interested farmers are invited to contact North Canterbury Fish & Game to register their interest in attending.

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Restoring our freshwater systems

OPINION: When I started writing this piece, I was sitting in my Kaiapoi office on a sweltering 30-degree summer’s day, and I could hear faint “plops” as youngsters pulled “phat manus” and “bombs” off the bridge into the Kaiapoi River as generations before them have done.

Do they know that the river is deemed “unsuitable” for swimming with E. coli levels of up to 2,420 per 100ml? This information is available on LAWA’s website, Land, Air, Water Aotearoa (LAWA) - Can I swim here? It makes for sobering reading. With levels this high, we should supply these youngsters with full PPE gear to wear over their shorts. The saddest fact is that this story is repeating itself from Cape Reinga to Bluff.

We are witnessing the systemic collapse of New Zealand’s freshwater systems as our environment can no longer handle the extreme pressure we have placed on it through decades of urban and rural intensification. We have taken too much from our environment and we must start giving back.

Change is coming with a renewed focus on healthy waterways through the National Policy for Freshwater Management (NPS-FM), which the Government announced in August 2020, as well as Plan Change 7 to the Canterbury Land & Water Regional Plan (PC7), which progressed through submissions and a hearing in front of independent hearing commissioners last year.

I attended the PC7 hearing in December and it boosted my spirits to observe the passion our community has for improving Waimakariri’s waterways. I hope the changes that come out of PC7 will be bold and far reaching.

The concept of Te Mana o te Wai underpins the NPS-FM and places the highest value on the health of freshwater systems. This philosophy is the new basis for how we, as a society, interact with our environment. The NPS-FM creates a framework for change, but we must also change how we think as council bodies, as communities, as businesses, and as individuals about how our systems/practices must shift from productive growth mode to sustainability mode, and how we can live within an acceptable environmental footprint. On an individual level, we need to realise how, over the long term, that wet paddock or riverbed block would benefit the planet if it were left to revert to a wetland or a more natural state.

This year the Waimakariri Water Zone Committee will focus on priority areas and working with the community to improve our waterways.

We will support change through three newlyformed catchment groups – the Sefton Saltwater Creek Catchment Group, the Landcare Working Group, and the Biodiversity Group.

We are ahead of the curve in Waimakariri in terms of engaging with farmers, waterway conservation groups and the wider community, but we still have a long journey ahead to restore our rivers and streams.

We must work together in a united way to leave our land and water for future generations to inherit in a better state than when we found it.

Whatungarongaro te tangata, toitū te whenua - As man disappears from sight, the land remains.

Michael Blackwellis is chair of Waimakariri Water Zone Committee.

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