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Farmers in the Pomahaka River catchment in southwest Otago who banded together to improve water quality have been recognised at the NZ River Awards.
The annual event was held in Wellington last night. The Pathway for the Pomahaka project was joint winner with Wairarapa Moana in the Story category, in which there were eight river stories from around the country.
Judge Rebecca Macfie, a senior writer for the Listener, said the Pomahaka story stood out for several reasons: the scale of catchment and therefore the project, the range of farmers involved (intensive dairy, sheep and beef, and deer), and the commitment of the group to restoring the health of their river.
Otago Regional Council chairman Stephen Woodhead congratulated the Pomahaka farmers, saying their success demonstrated the power of local communities taking responsibility for sustainable management of waterways in their backyard.
For more than a decade the council had worked with farmers in the area and contributed funding towards setting up the current project.
Mr Woodhead said the project was an example of a community being pro-active, showing real stewardship for improving water quality, and taking practical steps to bring it up to the new Otago Water Plan standards.
The NZ Landcare Trust started the Pathway for the Pomahaka initiative in 2013, bringing farmers and stakeholders together to develop a catchment plan, focusing on ways to improve water quality.
Since then, farmers had modified land management practices in response to water quality monitoring results in the catchment. They aimed to reduce their contaminant discharge from runoff, leaching and drains, using Otago Water Plan limits as the benchmark for monitoring.
Some of the original participants in the Pathway to the Pomahaka project formed their own Pomahaka Farmers Water Care Group. They each began monitoring water quality in the area. So far 250 farmers in the catchment have shown interest in being a part of this.
"I know those farmers already working hard in the Pomahaka would like to see even more of their neighbours supporting the collective effort they are making to do their own water measuring and testing," Mr Woodhead said.
"They are an example to others in Otago and are actively leading the way to ensure that achieving good water quality throughout the region becomes a reality."
Pathway for the Pomahaka co-ordinator Janet Gregory said the project's focus is on education, whether that involves one farmer talking to another over the fence about grazing their gullies and hollows last, or emailing others about upcoming field days on topics such as fertiliser use and efficiency, or effluent storage and management.
Past success at river awards
Otago has had considerable success at the NZ River Awards.
Last year, Dunstan Creek - the largest of the Manuherikia River's tributaries - was the most improved Otago waterway based on measurement of dissolved reactive phosphorus at the Beattie Rd monitoring site.
At the same awards, Dunedin teachers Andrew Innes and Simon McMillan were finalists in the NZ River Story Award for their work with University of Otago scientists to produce rigorous water testing procedures for school students.
At the inaugural awards in 2013, the Shag River in East Otago was named most improved river, while the Waikouaiti River was placed third.