OPINION: The Maitai River is a rare and precious asset.
There are parts of its meandering course through Nelson to the sea where you can still almost forget you are in the middle of a small city.
Its waters have provided generations with a cool refuge during summer and there is the simple appreciation of walking, running or cycling along its green corridor at other times of the year.
So its current deterioration should concern everyone.
Very high levels of toxic blue-green algae, which can be fatal to dogs and harmful to people, have led to official warnings to keep out of the lower Maitai, probably for the entire summer.
Anglers despair at the decline of the once-flourishing trout fishery - the fish are also considered to be good indicators of the health of a waterway.
Other observers say they have not seen the river in such a poor state.
So it's timely and heartening that a group of concerned residents have stepped up to do whatever they can to raise awareness, education and ultimately the river's health.
Friends of the Maitai has been formed by recently returned Nelsonian Ami Kennedy, who has a background in environmental education and community development.
She has used both skills to set up a group prepared to get their feet wet and hands dirty to help monitor the river, assist in replanting projects and act as advocates.
In doing so, Ms Kennedy says the group is not interested in council-bashing.
Instead, a large, committed community voice can ensure that the reasons for the river's decline can be identified and rectified.
Among those trying to get to the bottom of those issues is Cawthron Institute scientist Susie Wood, who has been working with Nelson City Council staff on a monitoring programme to learn more about why the algal blooms seem to have intensified.
Dr Wood says potential causes could involve natural factors such as changing climate, and man-made factors such as increased sediment from forestry-related activity, stormwater runoff and the impact of the Maitai reservoir on water quality.
A Cawthron report for the council in August found forestry and stormwater were the dominant pressures on the Maitai catchment, with the reservoir playing a comparatively minor role.
Dr Wood's research will hopefully define the issues further. After that it will be up to the council to come up with a plan of action, hopefully with the support of landowners and the community.
The process can only be helped by the Friends of Maitai, who come from a simple perspective of cherishing the river and wanting to make it better. The more they can help bring a community voice to the issue, the more people are likely to get on board. A joint effort now to restore one of the city's jewels will be a great gift to future generations.
- © Fairfax NZ News