Group’s work on creek starting to pay off

Carters Creek Catchment Group chairman Willy Leferink and Mid Canterbury Catchment Collective co...
Carters Creek Catchment Group chairman Willy Leferink and Mid Canterbury Catchment Collective co-ordinator Angela Cushnie stand beside Carters Creek where it meets Mid Canterbury’s Lake Hood. PHOTOS: TIM CRONSHAW
A rural and urban catchment group near Ashburton is cleaning up a stream with a local solutions for local problems approach.

Carters Creek starts several kilometres above Tinwald in natural springs on the southern side of the Ashburton River before running through the township and out into farm paddocks to Lake Hood.

Normally it dries up over summer, but flooding has been a problem and last winter several properties lost parts of their gardens when homes and garages were threatened by floodwaters.

Carters Creek Catchment Group chairman Willy Leferink said the creek had been a "poster boy" for a long time of what was wrong with surface water bodies.

He said the goal was to create a healthier creek and reduce the flooding risk.

A group of town and country people had got together to fix the creek and once everyone got on a first name basis real traction started to be made. There were many solutions, but catchment groups acted to "corral" the solutions and get people on board, he said.

"The creek is now clear. It’s not free of contaminants, far off it, but it’s much better and it doesn’t stink anymore. People are more aware on what they can and cannot do. Property owners used to dump their rubbish into Carters Creek and we used to get all sorts of debris and plastic and all sorts of stuff which doesn’t happen anymore."

Carters Creek Catchment Group chairman Willy Leferink (left), member Paul Cunneen and Mid...
Carters Creek Catchment Group chairman Willy Leferink (left), member Paul Cunneen and Mid Canterbury Catchment Collective co-ordinator Angela Cushnie inspect Carters Creek where it runs through Tinwald in Mid Canterbury.
The Carters Creek Catchment Group is one of nine groups that make up the Mid Canterbury Catchment Collective, a hub helping them to carry out environmental projects on the land and water.

Catchment groups are a ground-up movement with local people, including farmers, working to bring about a better local environment.

Nitrate testing showed the water quality was improving slowly and this was backed up by tests at the bottom end of Lake Hood.

"It’s definitely now where it needs to be, but a big thing from the whole process is people are aware of it and people and communities are coming together instead of everybody living their own little life in their own little spot with a don’t touch me [attitude]. The community is strengthening."

Mr Leferink said the source of the creek’s quality was complex and a multi-community problem.

Stormwater run-off came from the main highway shedding tyre, vehicle brake and other waste, housing development and farming.

The creek was like a sewage drain 30 years ago with the stench of a stagnant duck pond, he said.

Carters Creek is much clearer where it runs through Mid Canterbury’s Tinwald. Work remains to...
Carters Creek is much clearer where it runs through Mid Canterbury’s Tinwald. Work remains to reduce flooding and raise water quality.
"The system was halfway broken and the Ashburton District Council has done a lot of work to rectify most of it. I think we are not far away from fixing it, but in 2017 there was a massive rain event and the sewage came out of a shower, so that really got the council thinking something needed to be done."

Before the housing development the Tinwald swamp could handle the watershed, but it became channelled into the creek.

New stormwater pipes have deviated some of the pressure.

Many farmers had fenced off the creek and there was still work to be carried out to prevent livestock entering upstream and downstream of the creek, he said.

Some properties are still reliant on the creek for stock water and ongoing education would continue to help change this.

Group member Paul Cunneen said there had been a positive response from landowners after the group had gone door knocking and the community was less fragmented on the work needed for the creek.

He said they had in some cases put up with the problem for half a lifetime and once they became aware of the overall challenges wanted to be part of the project.

Had door knocking by the group not happened they probably would have carried on as they had previously, he said.

The rural and urban community is working to clean up Mid Canterbury’s Carters Creek. Carters...
The rural and urban community is working to clean up Mid Canterbury’s Carters Creek. Carters Creek Catchment Group chairman Willy Leferink (left), member Paul Cunneen and Mid Canterbury Catchment Collective co-ordinator Angela Cushnie inspect the creek where it runs into Lake Hood.
"Carters Creek is a wee bit unique because its source is from springs on the west side of Ashburton from farmland and flows through and picks up water from hard pan stormwater from urban subdivisions that go into the creek. So our [group] is a combination of mostly urban residents, rural lifestyle holders, farmers and Lake Hood residents and lake users so it’s quite a fruit salad of people."

The main cause of flooding was from the run-off of urban subdivisions creating a lot of hard pan and roofing. This entered two stormwater ponds which had become undersized and the overflow went into Carters Creek, he said.

The group had submitted and presented its thoughts on solutions to some of the challenges in Environment Canterbury’s long-term plan. It has also encouraged 110 submitters from landowners and Lake Hood residents to do the same to resolve the flooding.

Mr Leferink said there were opportunities to reduce the flooding and he had offered his own dairy run-off block to act as a flood pond.

He said these challenges had to be overcome before school planting projects and fish life monitoring could be carried out.

But there was momentum now that councils and communities were around the table and aware of their responsibilities, he said.

The Carters Creek group was the first urban-rural catchment group to form in the district and is supported by the collective which funds a facilitator and research to ease the workload on volunteers.

tim.cronshaw@alliedpress.co.nz