New Zealanders are passionate about the health of our rivers and lakes, and rightly so.
Our country’s clean, green image is vital to the way we market ourselves internationally, so people want to eat our food and to visit us and experience our environment. And of course as Kiwis we all expect to be able to safely take a dip in rivers and lakes when we want.
Water quality issues have received plenty of attention with the recent election and the challenges are complex.
While there are discussions happening at a government level and national plans for water quality improvements, it’s encouraging to know significant efforts are underway in communities acorss the country that are starting to make a difference.
The Pomahaka Water Care Group (PWCG) are a local Otago group whose mission is to return the Pomahaka River between Gore and Clutha to pristine condition with the absolute highest water quality – for future generations to enjoy as those have before them.
And it’s local farmers themselves leading the charge. Fifty per cent of farmers within the Pomahaka River catchment are contributing members of the group, which was set up to undertake water quality monitoring and promote good management practices to achieve water quality in the rivers to a swimmable standard.
Farmers helping farmers
The Pomahaka River is recognized as the most degraded river in rural Otago, and the PWCG take multiple approaches to restoration across the 2020 square km of farm land and approx. 4,000kms of waterways.
The main water quality issues are E Coli, Nitrogen and Phosphorus leaching via sediment movement. The group use the ORC Water Plan 6a standards as their goal which is based on “swimmable” quality of water, and a level of nutrients that doesn't promote algae growth to allow a healthy ecosystem.
Firstly, the group carries out intensive water testing (22 sites, 4 times a year) within the catchment so farmers have information independent of the Otago Regional Council to understand water quality close to their property. The group also promote on-farm discharge testing so farmers can get clarity on what their environmental footprint is, giving them direct ownership of the water quality as it leaves their property.
As well as testing, the group works hard to encourage good practices. A poster with 12 simple management strategies has been produced and is being delivered to all farmers in the catchment. Sediment traps, constructed wetlands as well as riparian planting programmes will be tested in areas, with water quality improvements being recorded to educate farmers as to their effectiveness.
Awareness is also being generated using social media, a cost effective way of reaching a large audience. It’s important for the support of the entire community, and it’s a great project to bring town and country together. They hope to eventually set up an environmental hotline, to enable any issues to be dealt with quickly and efficiently with a team of locals – farmers helping farmers.
The aim is to have profitable, sustainable agriculture thriving alongside local business, recreation and tourism.
The future of the Pomahaka
The Pomahaka River suffered its degradation over a long period of time, and while the group have achieved some quick wins, it will also take a long time to recover. Environmental change is dynamic andthe challenge for the group is to stay focused on the long term goals. It takes a relationship with the whole community to fix the issue; everyone needs to be on side.
To support the work the Pomahaka Water Group are doing, please visit their website or join their Facebook Group.