Government funding secured to make Taylor River swimmable again

Council science and monitoring manager Alan Johnson with some of the riparian plantings along the Taylor River.

Council science and monitoring manager Alan Johnson with some of the riparian plantings along the Taylor River.

A new project will return the most degraded river in Marlborough to a state where children can safely swim without getting sick, a scientist says.

The Taylor River, which runs through Blenheim, frequently receives the worst possible water quality rating, meaning swimming is not generally recommended.

Monitoring carried out by the Marlborough District Council over summer found e.coli levels in the river became unsafe five times, triggering an alert and warning signs to be put up.

But the council, with funding from the Government, is embarking on an ambitious project to improve the Taylor River with help from the community.

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Environment Minister Nick Smith announced $261,9500 for the project last week as part of a $44 million investment in improving lakes and rivers around the country. 

A health warning at the Taylor River in January this year.

A health warning at the Taylor River in January this year.

The remainder of the overall $527,400 cost is being met by the council, which is forming a stakeholder group made up of iwi, wine, farming and other representatives.

Council science and monitoring manager Alan Johnson said the project would focus on the mid-reaches of the Taylor River catchment and its main feeder, Doctors Creek.

There were two main issues with the Taylor and Doctors Creek; e.coli from human and animal sources, and sedimentation from run-off and bank erosion, Johnson said.

Summertime at the Taylor River's Henry St bridge.

Summertime at the Taylor River's Henry St bridge.

To combat the issues the stakeholder group, to be formed by the end of the year, would embark on large-scale riparian plantings covering some 12 kilometres.

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The native plants would act as a buffer, protecting the Taylor and Doctors Creek from sediment that had the potential to smother life in the waterways.

"The benefits you get include some shading, so it benefits the ecology in the stream as well - all your nice native critters, like fish and eels," Johnson said.

A tree toppled into the Taylor River during a flood earlier this year. Sediment also flows into the river during heavy rain.

A tree toppled into the Taylor River during a flood earlier this year. Sediment also flows into the river during heavy rain.

The plantings would take place over five years, however Johnson said it could take another five for them to become established and make a big difference to sedimentation.

The council would also be working with landowners in the Doctors Creek catchment, an area of about 55 square kilometres, to make sure stock was excluded near the stream.

A related part of the project, though it was not included in the dedicated funding, was the replacement and repair of the Blenheim sewerage network.

DNA source tracking carried out by the council had identified e.coli entering the Taylor River from the network because of damage sustained during the earthquake.

"As soon as those pipes are fixed, and they're saying that's going to take up to five years, you should be able to see an immediate change in water quality," Johnson said.

"The point is with the Taylor it's still swimmable at times, but this programme here will make it swimmable most of the time."

Johnson said the Taylor and its surrounding reserve was an iconic area, and that the council and the community both had a vision of making the river as clean as possible.

"We're going to lead the project, but it needs to be community driven - so we need buy-in essentially," he said.

The other Marlborough project that received funding through the Freshwater Improvement Fund was the Moawhitu Lake and wetland on d'Urville Island, or Rangitoto ki te Tonga.

Ngati Koata received $258,000 of the total $535,500 needed to undertake earthworks to restore water levels, riparian planting and fish habitat restoration.

 - The Marlborough Express


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