Council vows to enhance Maitai

The Nelson City Council has promised to clean up its own act as it works on a $400,000 plan to improve the health of the Maitai River.

"We're going to get our own house in order, look to carry out our activities in a way that actually enhances the river rather than degrades it," said environmental programmes manager Chris Ward at a public meeting to discuss the Maitai last night.

He also suggested that the Maitai Dam's comparative lack of living creatures and its "pretty much pristine back country" created the opportunity to "do something special".

The dam's spillway didn't allow fish to climb up to reach the reservoir but there was potential to put in a passageway that would allow native fish but not trout to ascend, Ward said.

"You could potentially have a reservoir turned into a lake with native fish in there."

Eighty people attended the meeting, held at the Trafalgar Park Pavilion and addressed by Friends of the Maitai spokeswoman Ami Kennedy as well as council planning and regulation committee chairman Brian McGurk, the council's environmental group manager Greg Carlyon, and Ward.

Carlyon said the Maitai's 14km to 15km catchment and relative good health meant that it was "a no-brainer" to get the council's attention and focus.

"The signal I'm getting from council on the Maitai catchment is, ‘let's make a shift and let's make it quite fast'."

He, McGurk and Ward paid tribute to the constructive approach taken by Friends of the Maitai.

Ward said the city was likely having the largest impact on the river through the dam at one end and sewage-contaminated stormwater at the other. Finding the sources of the sewage pollution in the lower Maitai where swimming is banned would cost around $100,000, he said, and he got a strong show of hands to indicate that this was important.

The council had programmed $400,000 for the 2014-15 year but was spending "much, much more", Carlyon said. It was now taking the view that it needed an action plan that could begin in the next few months.

"The ones that are simple for us to pick up and run with are the notion that you should be able to swim safely in the Maitai, all the time, or that you should be able to take kai from the Maitai and eat it safely.

Ward said the council wasn't going to take a "big heavy stick" approach to cleaning up the river.

"We recognise that we have to get our own house in order first and that's going to take a couple of years. But on the way, we believe we can take other landowners with us."

Water quality in the upper catchment was excellent, but degraded "all the way down", he said, with the results of forest cutting evident through sedimentation in the middle reaches.

Questioned by Maitai Valley resident Rene Muller about forestry's impact on the river he said that all the activities in and around the Maitai that required consents had been granted them.

The council was signalling that it was now viewing consents as a minimum standard, he said, and would aim to do a lot better for the Maitai from now on.

It was looking at aerating the reservoir and drawing water from a different layer, and enhancing the fish passage at the dam and in both the Maitai and tributary the Brook Stream.

On sewage contamination, Ward said the city's sewers were "a real hotch-potch" of different ages. "We can't dig up the whole city but we can be a bit clever in terms of how we define the areas we're going to do some work in."

Cyanobacteria, deadly to dogs and a threat to humans when it builds into toxic mats, was the one problem which the council did not yet have a solution for, he said, but some of the other planned actions could be beneficial while the research continued.

All the council representatives encouraged the public to make comments at meetings and submissions through the annual plan process, and Ward also asked that they be vigilant and report any problems in the river. "We see it as absolutely critical that the community takes ownership."

Kennedy said Friends of the Maitai had established nine autonomous interest groups.

"Our shared goal is to gather, learn and take action . . . and promote collaborative responsibility for the wellbeing of our waterway," she said.

A representative comment came from Nile St riverbank resident Steven Gray, who said he was "very hopeful" about the council's new commitment and would be watching to see how it was maintained.