Pomahaka project done but not over

Pupils and teachers from Heriot School take part in a wetland planting day on Ardmore Rd, Heriot,...
Pupils and teachers from Heriot School take part in a wetland planting day on Ardmore Rd, Heriot, last August, as part of the Pomahaka Catchment Project, which is now complete. PHOTO: NZ LANDCARE TRUST/SUPPLIED
"Over , but not done yet" might be the best way to describe the Pomahaka Catchment Project, which drew to a formal close in Tapanui on Wednesday night.

Project co-ordinator Craig Simpson, of NZ Landcare Trust, said although overall funding for the three-year project concluded on Wednesday, many of the sub-projects begun under its umbrella were still very much alive and kicking.

Craig Simpson
Craig Simpson
Stakeholders gathered this week at the West Otago Town & Country Club in Tapanui to celebrate successes and look to the future.

The project was a continuation of an initiative begun in 2014 with funding from the Ministry for Primary Industries, aiming to improve catchment water quality by regular testing, sharing research, and encouraging best practice among its farmer stakeholders.

In 2015 the project was recognised for its work in pioneering farmer-led freshwater improvements, with a NZ Rivers Award.

Since that time, it had inspired further catchment groups around the country, and was seen as a template for similar activities elsewhere, Mr Simpson said.

He said the past three years had helped consolidate that earlier work, and led to several significant projects that would continue to thrive.

Those included the Pomahaka Planting Project, launched in November last year, which will lead to the planting of an anticipated 216,000 native riverbank species, and the installation of more than 100km of riparian fencing, on farms throughout the district.

Other projects spawned included the recently opened, 9ha Waipahi wetland; an AgResearch study into the filtration qualities of constructed wetlands; and smaller projects engaging schools and community groups in riparian planting and wetland formation.

Mr Simpson said the project had also begun to achieve significant inroads into its core goal of improving water quality in the Pomahaka River and its tributaries.

"All the major contaminants such as nitrogen and E.coli have shown good reductions during recent years. If we wanted to remain focused on anything, we could do further work to continue to reduce phosphorus and sediment."

Better water quality had been met by improvements elsewhere, he said.

"We’re seeing improved biodiversity, fishing opportunities, and the return of important native species."

He praised the catchment’s farmers for their ongoing efforts in conserving and enhancing the natural environment of West Otago.

"This is farmer-led. A recent survey showed 87% of respondents had changed their winter grazing practices during the past three years.

"It’s about farmers coming up with local solutions for the issues on their home turf. Amazing things can happen when people come together and collaborate like this."



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