Working together the key to resolving Manuherikia issues

Manuherekia Catchment Group general manager Clare Hadley recently started in the role. PHOTO:...
Manuherekia Catchment Group general manager Clare Hadley recently started in the role. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
A new job is a return home, Clare Hadley writes.

Life is a long journey and change is the only constant. If you’d told teenage me, leaving Central Otago, that I’d return here decades later, I wouldn’t have believed you.

I hear a lot about the uniqueness of this district — the hottest, coldest, driest place in the country. Nowhere else in New Zealand is like it.

And yet here I am, and I’m thrilled. I’ve not only moved here with my husband and two dogs, but I’ve taken up an exciting role as general manager for the Manuherikia Catchment Group.

If you’re wondering who I am, my background is local government. For the last 15 years, I’ve been the chief executive at Rangitikei District, Nelson City and Invercargill City councils. As you can imagine, joining MCG is quite different, but wow, it’s great.

I’m learning fast. It’s a beautiful place and it’s one the locals are passionate about. As they should be. My focus in my first three months is reacquainting myself with the area, meeting the people, and learning about the challenges and opportunities.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

The people I’ve met are incredible. Knowledgeable. Passionate. Love their home and love their region. They all want the best for the whole area, for the community, the environment, for water quality and for the economy.

I have learned that every farm is unique, and what works in one part of the valley won’t work in another. Everyone uses their water differently.

You can have a large farm that only irrigates a small portion, and that small portion is critical to their operation. I’m told that changing practices have seen the same amount of water used increase production significantly.

I have read submissions to the Otago Regional Council’s Land and Water Plan. There are quite a few references to dairying activity. This has been fascinating to me as ORC’s own material states dairying makes up 1% of the inland area.

Did you know that agriculture makes up around 22% of jobs and tourism (accommodation, cafes, sightseeing) makes up around 7%?

There’s a billboard in West Otago which (slightly paraphrased) says, "For us or against us, let it not divide us". It’s a great sentiment, and I can’t help thinking it’s one that applies well for the Manuherikia catchment.

I have heard a lot about how the catchment is divided but, if my years in local government have taught me anything, it’s that progress means looking forward and creating solutions together, solutions that will last. I truly think that if we focus on what we do agree on and work together constructively we will find the best outcome for this district that everyone loves.

For example, the issue of minimum flow in the Manuherikia River is about more than just water quantity.

It is about the environment and economy and needs to reflect social and cultural aspirations. We can talk about the income generated by activity that relies on water, and we should recognise the enjoyment that others get from recreational activities that rely on good water flow.

The councils are tasked with considering four wellbeings: social, economic, cultural and environmental, with all wellbeings being considered equally. We need economic activity to provide income, and agriculture makes up 85% of the land use in our rohe.

Without economic activity there isn’t a community to support — we can see that in small towns that have withered away throughout the country.

The farmers I’ve met so far are people who live on the land, who love the land and who are committed to the environment. They want to see their community and their surroundings thrive. Take a look at the great work done by a small team of dedicated people on the Thomson’s Catchment Wetlands.

The environment is incredibly important — now and for future generations. If we take our small slice of paradise and the rare roundhead galaxiid fish, found only in this area, then we can all agree we need to do our part to allow these taonga to thrive.

Working together, we need time and support to address the ongoing challenges to our water quantity and quality.

And we need respect for each other, recognising that everyone’s invested in this discussion, and we’ll only move forward when we find a lasting solution together.

Bill Gates said that we always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10.

I will continue to connect and am looking forward to hearing what really matters to everyone, so together we can understand how to work together for the sustainable future of this unique place.

This is my undertaking, working for MCG, and one I hope you’ll join me in.

— Clare Hadley is the new general manager of the Manuherikia Catchment Group.