Four-year $5.2m project to improve water health

Te Toitū Te Hakapupu Pleasant River. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Te Toitū Te Hakapupu Pleasant River. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
A project to improve the health of East Otago waterways has brought two cultures together.

The Toitū Te Hakapupu Pleasant River restoration project is a four-year partnership between the Otago Regional Council (ORC) and Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki.

The $5.2 million project is focused on improving the health of the water in East Otago’s Pleasant River catchment which includes Trotters Creek, Watkin Creek and the coastal estuary.

Co-chair of the project Katharina Ruckstuhl said the project had so far been a success.

Puketeraki marae hosted an awards night last week to acknowledge all those involved in the project.

"Our celebration last week put aside some of the hesitancy of some of the Pākehā community members and property owners because for some of them, that was their first time on a marae, and certainly on our marae.

"When people actually start to work together and talk with one another, around something that it could be a bit contentious, it diffuses a lot of that."

Katharina Ruckstuhl speaks about the success of the Toitū Te Hakapupu restoration project...
Katharina Ruckstuhl speaks about the success of the Toitū Te Hakapupu restoration project yesterday. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
The project had three main actions: develop a catchment action plan, construct 60km of fencing to exclude stock from waterways, and plant 100,000 native plants.

"It’s a first landing place for our whānau — we know that through the archaeology and through the artefacts that have been found there.

"So from our perspective, that cultural reconnection is absolutely crucial."

The whānau from Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki undertook the first round of cultural health monitoring at the catchment for the project.

The monitoring allowed mana whenua to establish the health of the awa (river) and identify area of improvement.

The project created employment opportunities and allowed for mana whenua to run tamariki days where they pass on skills, practices and cultural knowledge.

"Being able to be culturally reconnected in those ways actually means that, in our whānau, we are building respect and understanding of that particular waterway."

The project was funded by the ORC and the Ministry for the Environment’s (MfE) Essential Freshwater Fund — $786,000 from the ORC and nearly $4m from MfE.

Those involved had already successfully planted 22,000 trees and constructed about 4.5km of fencing.

Ms Ruckstuhl thought it was important to recognise protecting waterways was an issue everyone should take accountability for, not just farmers.

A study done by the National Science Challenges showed the efforts of farmers had already reduced nitrogen by 45%, phosphors by 98% and sediment by 30% in our rivers.

"Te mana o te wai (mana of the water) is not a theory, it’s a practice of moving together as a community around the most precious thing we have — which is our wai."

The Rūnaka planned to create a documentary on the project which would be put out for public viewing when the project ends in 2025.