Last week, we rolled up to the mighty Waikato on the final day of our swimmable rivers tour. Co-Leader James Shaw, Denise Roche MP and I started our day in Horotiu where the primary school has been focussing on the awa and its many issues. The tamariki presented us about their research on the state of the river locally. They showed us the clean up work they have done, planting the river banks and dealing with rubbish. They also spoke passionately about the culture and history of the river.
We then travelled to the beautiful hill country at Maungatautari to visit the Williams family organic dairy farm. They have worked hard to create a diverse healthy pasture for their cows and to restore wetlands. Their cows choose when they will be milked by the robot milking machines. A happy and healthy herd and a passionate family who shared their struggles and their absolute commitment to quality dairy farming.
Later, Denise and I met with the Chief Executive of the Waikato Regional Council about their freshwater plan. Their goal is 80 years to swimmable which is not my idea of urgency. We had an animated discussion about the collaborative process which informed the Healthy Rivers Plan. Collaboration is the latest fashion in water decision making but is plagued with conflicts of interest and is not accountable via the ballot box. It could be great to work on implementation on the ground if we had strong water quality and allocation rules in place, but we do not.
We later met with Dr Naomi Simmonds who is from Ngāti Raukawa and an expert is Te Tiriti issues and water. She teaches in the Geography Dept of Waikato University. She had many great ideas about protecting water by honouring Te Tiriti.
That night we held a public meeting in Hamilton with great speeches from Angus Robson, Dr Alison Dewes and James Bailey from ” Farmers for the Future “. There was a lively discussion with the audience about the solutions for water quality and how farming and indeed sewage managemnt needs to change to protect the Waikato river. It was the last event of the tour and we really appreciated being in the Waikato where we have seen our campaign on Landcorp help the Government farmer commit to reducing dairy conversions and the emergence of farmers groups. Waikato river has a number of co-governance arrangements which mean the tangata whenua are also leading the work for clean up. But, as we learned from listening to people, this river still needs more landuse controls as well as more riparian planting to return it to its former glory.