Green Party loves NZ Rivers

Catherine Delahunty: My Mataura River visit

On June 1st the Greens swimmable rivers tour visited the Mataura river and communities connected to it.

All we need now is a Government willing to set clear strong rules and support the new conversation about measuring our success by the health of our rivers.

We started our day at the Mataura river bridge with Rewi Anglem of Ngai Tahu. Rewi has led the creation of the first modern freshwater mataitai (reserve for restoration and customary use) in Aotearoa New Zealand. Rewi explained that the mataitai with its native tree plantings was placed along the stretch of river which has suffered the most from industrial discharges.

The Mataura was once the drain for the tannery, paper mill and freezing works. Now only the freezing works remains but the white scum on the river showed us that this is still unfinished business.

Rewi has involved local schools and two local prison communities in revegetating the river banks in the mataitai. Everyone involved hopes that over time the eels, kanakana (lamprey), and native birds will return to the mighty Mataura.

Rewi explained that the biggest challenge now is not pollution from Mataura town. Diffuse agricultural pollution is affecting the Mataura and many smaller tributaries because of the huge conversion to dairying in Southland, as well as large numbers of beef cattle and sheep farm.

After visiting the mataitai we went to meet the children of Glenham School who have an outdoor classroom at a creek on Clark’s farm.

Glenham School - Mataura River Visit

The Clark family, who are very passionate about restoring waterways, have given the school a stream to study and restore and the children described their adventure with water quality and biodiversity.  This very small rural school is inspiring a new generation of students to value and protect fresh water.

We then met with the Chairperson and CEO of the Southland Regional Council for a lively exchange of views about how we can protect Mataura and other rivers from pollution from the current farming model.

Their Land and Water Plan has recognised that some soil types are unsuitable for dairy conversion however there is a long way to go if rivers are to be swimmable for all living creatures. The landscapes of Southland are green but not exactly alive with biodiversity and native trees, some of it looks like a green desert based on a high volume of milk production.

Later at the public meeting local dairy farmer David Diprose and local environmental leader Robert Guyton inspired an audience of about 70 people to “end the war on nature” and start making changes on farms that will stop polluting water.

They talked about foods that could be produced based on what would suit the environment not the commercial banks. The audience discussion was great because catchment groups, farmers, environmentalists and activists were all talking about how rivers like Mataura could be healthy if people worked together.

There was much discussion about words like “collaboration “and “best practice” which can either be genuine power sharing and accountability or business as usual with a bit of fencing and planning on the side.

My feeling was that this community was further ahead than the Government in their willingness to engage with each other. Farmers like David Diprose are looking hard at themselves and embracing change, Tangata whenua are leading restoration and research.

All we need now is a Government willing to set clear strong rules and support the new conversation about measuring our success by the health of our rivers.