Friends want their clean Maitai back

23:00, Dec 06 2013
maitai river friends
ACTION GROUP: Friends of the Maitai founder, Ami Kennedy, foreground, with members, back left Tom and Ali Kennedy, Mary Willett and Alison Horn at the Maitai River edge.

The deteriorating Maitai River has a new community champion, a locally formed "Friends of the Maitai" group.

The group of about 30 Nelsonians want to help achieve a "cool, clear and flowing river".

They are not interested in council bashing, but want to work with all parties to improve the river, currently off-limits for swimming because of a surge in toxic algae. Friends of the Maitai have already been talking with council staff and learning citizen science - where they monitor the river and feed back gathered data to researchers. They are hoping to do some replanting along the river and streams which feed into the Maitai.

"We all love it and cherish it and want to see its health improved," said the group's founder Ami Kennedy. "I think we can make it a bit better."

Ms Kennedy, originally from Nelson, moved back earlier this year to her family home on the river. Disturbed by the deterioration the river she had swum in as a child and armed with a background in environmental education and community development she decided to "connect neighbours".

"This was one of the projects that sung to me because this was about my environment, my neighbourhood," she said.


Ms Kennedy hoped the project would be a catalyst for the community to feel as though they could create "critical change" even when the issues seem overwhelming.

The Maitai took another hit last week with the council issuing a no-swim warning in parts of the river due to toxic blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, being "present in very high levels".

Nelson Cawthron Institute research scientist, Dr Susie Wood, who specialises in cyanobacteria, has lived in Nelson for more than six years, and often runs by the river. During recent runs she said the river was "certainly the worst I have ever seen it".

However, the causes of the river's current state were still being investigated. Possible suspects include forestry runoff, urban stormwater runoff, and water feeding the river from the reservoir, which has different metals and nutrients in it.

Dr Wood and her team of university students from Canterbury and Wellington were still in the research phase of understanding why there was a surge in the toxic algae, which affects rivers across the country.

"We don't know yet as we have only really started working on it this year. Certainly there are things that can influence that and some of those are naturally occurring things such as climatic change, where we might have less rainfall events, and then some of them are influenced by human actions - so things like forestry in the catchment can create increased sediment in rivers," Dr Wood said.

Increased sediment could smother things and change nutrients' processes that fed the algae, she said.

She was interested in "encouraging companies to work more effectively for all living things in their realm" as it was not just about being "money driven".

Nelson City Council spokeswoman Angela Ricker said the council closely monitored and tested the river.

Staff had installed debris traps on stormwater drains, put in new plants on the river banks to cool the water temperatures, and supported landowners to use more sustainable practices.

Dr Wood said community groups "are really, really valuable and can have a big effect on how waterways are managed right across New Zealand".

"To me it's fantastic the community wants to be involved in that river because it is such a valuable river for Nelson and it is so close to us, yet we have all these water quality problems, so it's a real shame."


Remember drains are for rain. Don't put any contaminants down drains as they end up in streams, waterways and the ocean. Sweep your paths and driveways, rather than hosing dirt and grime. Clean paint brushes at an inside sink connected to the sewerage system rather than using an outside tap. Source: Nelson City Council

The Nelson Mail