We're far from being the only city with a river running through it, but to most Nelsonians, the Maitai is something special.
Not everyone appreciates the estuarine features of its lower reaches, especially at low tide.
Indeed, city councillors in the 1980s looked seriously at building a weir to maintain a consistent water level regardless of tides. A full report went to them in 1988 but was shelved, and the issue came back a decade later.
As awareness grew of the importance of estuaries and tidal flows to waterways and marine life generally, the support for such a structure waned. Not so the regard with which the Maitai is held.
Concern for the river's declining health led to the Friends of the Maitai being established late last year, as a well-connected and politically neutral advocate for the river.
A key focus was to seek common ground and work positively alongside the council and other groups rather than to merely hurl criticism from the riverbank.
That approach has much to commend it. All parties want to see the river restored as much as possible - and none more so than the city council itself.
Indeed, it has statutory obligations to protect the waterways within its boundaries. But it seems happy to take that responsibility to another level, and is currently spending more than $4 million on enhancing the Maitai's lower reaches and - most importantly - improving its overall water quality.
The council is often knocked, and at times that is deserved. Any organisation of its size and importance must expect to be under ongoing scrutiny.
It is charged with making big and important decisions, and will never suit everyone all of the time. Its mismanagement of aspects of the lower Maitai enhancement project - including a $727,000 budget blowout - has sparked appropriate criticism.
But its new enthusiasm for cleaning up the Maitai is also worth noting. In acting strategy and environment group manager Greg Carlyon it seems to have someone with passion, know-how and infectious optimism. Tag-teaming him with planning chair Brian McGurk and a mayor with significant resource management and planning credentials means the Maitai now has powerful friends in high places.
We can hope - genuinely - that Carlyon delivers on his assurances of a near-immediate improvement in the river, and that we do "see and smell the difference" within six months.
His action plan includes tweaking the way the Maitai dam is managed so that it releases a better quality of water into the river, controlling the headwater catchment, growing more native plants along the banks and monitoring neighbouring activities. It is encouraging to learn that another one-time gem, the now heavily modified Brook Stream, is also to receive some overdue attention.
The council can expect wide community support for its efforts to improve water quality. As Carlyon puts it, cleaning up the river is a "no-brainer".
- The Nelson Mail