On Wednesday, I was fortunate to visit the lovely Manawatū river as part of our Swimmable Rivers tour. Our day started at Awapuni School in Palmerston North with the bilingual class – a bright and beautiful group of tamariki who have a passion for swimming and have many questions about the creatures who live (or should live) in their local river. We (the local Green Party candidates, fellow MP Steffan Browning, and myself) then met with Horizons Regional Councillors, including two wonderful environmentalists Rachel Keedwell and Nicola Patrick.
The next activity was meeting Wai NZ, Awapuni school and media at the river to check out Wai NZ’s water sensor. This sensor has been developed to help community groups get involved in water monitoring. It doesn’t yet test for E-Coli or nitrates, yet but it does collect information on water clarity, temperature and PH levels. The device records data in the river and sends it back to a laptop or phone.
The Green group then visited Hiwinui Farms to hear farmer Dave Stewart tell his story of farming along the river. Dave has an impressive farm that requires no imported feed, low ratios of animals to paddocks, and a passion for revegetation, including an extraordinary riparian planting effort. Again we had a lively debate about water issues and learned about the new group “ACRE” – agricultural communities that respect the environment” which Dave is instigating.
In the evening, we hosted a well-attended public meeting. About 90 people listened to Hone Morris from Ngāti Rangitane presenting on their exciting plan to bring people back to the river. This includes building eight kiosks or whare along the river’s length that provide cultural information and a focus on the sentinel species at each site.
Councillor Rachel Keedwell then spoke about the problems with the One Plan and the need to do more than maintain levels of nitrates in consents. She also talked about the risks of relying on consent reviews to ensure water quality is actually improving on farms.
The audience discussion was a great mix of issues and solutions. Clearly, there is a lot going on to help the Manawatū river, but there is also a lot of concern about whether the wastewater plant improvements and One Plan implementation are being driven with sufficient urgency.
The experience taught me that the Manawatū river is both a great example of the great potential and great challenges we have across the country to clean-up our rivers. The Manawatū has huge historical and contemporary issues with sediment and with wastewater. It has a substantial programme in place to protect the river but it is also witnessing agricultural intensification. There are contradictions in these factors which cannot be ignored.
The Manawatū river carries the scars of a massive abuse but there are some remarkable communities determined to make positive change.