River gradually on mend

Last updated 09:00 12/04/2014
Fonterra protest river sign
A protest sign against Fonterra has been placed in the Manawatu River near Fitzherbert Bridge.

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"We're not there yet but it's a really encouraging step on the journey," was how Manawatu mayor Margaret Kouvelis summed up the latest report on the Manawatu river.

That assessment would have been shared by many of the members of the Manawatu River Leaders' Accord who attended the release at Te Manawa yesterday of a progress report on the river's cleanup.

The report marked three years since the accord was signed on the banks of the Manawatu next to the Fitzherbert Bridge. A lot of water's flowed under it since then and it's now a bit cleaner than it was.

"The trends are going in the right direction, you're not quite meeting many of the targets that have been set," Aqualinc scientist Ton Snelder said.

Snelder worked with staff from NIWA and the Cawthron Institute to produce an independent assessment of water quality in the Manawatu catchment. It compared data collected by Horizons with targets in the One Plan and the draft national policy statement on freshwater.

The assessment found that while levels of nutrients and bacteria were decreasing in the Manawatu catchment, levels of periphyton had increased. Periphyton, which is a group of algae and other microbes, can negatively impact the ecological and recreational value of a river.

The progress report finds the river still rated as one of the worst performing in the country. However, Snelder said that was to be expected because of the high level of development along its banks.

About 80 per cent of the river catchment area is made up of farmland or urban areas - much higher than typical for New Zealand.

"It's a very developed catchment," Snelder said. "The water quality is consistent with the land use."

The increase in periphyton levels was unusual as its growth was generally linked to nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus.

"That's a little bit of a conundrum," Snelder said.

Horizons science manager Dr Jon Roygard said that was a quandary he was hoping to answer, and the fact the river was the most monitored in the country would help with that.

The report also details the efforts to fence off waterways, upgrade urban wastewater plants, improve farm practices, protect fish habitats and prevent erosion in the hill country.

The accord had been boosted in 2011 by a $5.2m grant from the Government's Fresh Start for Freshwater Fund.

Yesterday environment minister Amy Adams said it was still early days in the timeframe for improving polluted waterways but she was encouraged by the progress.

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"The Government regards its $5.2m investment in cleaning up this river as well worthwhile. By working together, we can achieve far more than leaving it to one group or organisation."

Horizons chairman Michael McCartney said with the Government's funding to the accord expiring this year, work was under way to develop a stage two plan for how the accord would operate in future.

There was still a lot of work to do, McCartney said, but things were heading in the right direction. The full report is available from manawaturiver.co.nz

- Manawatu Standard

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