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Freshwater: Upper Clutha rural catchment work inspires urban groups

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Volunteers planting natives with the Lakeside Rd Enhancement urban group. Photo / Te Kakano Aotearoa Trust

By Sharon Davis reporters@theguardian.co.nz

Communities in the Upper Clutha Basin near Wānaka are taking a fresh approach to water quality.

WAI Wānaka is building on rural catchment groups and developing an equivalent based on drains and streams in the urban environment.

Project manager Prue Kane said the community-driven water care group grew out of a couple of organisations formed in 2016 to protect freshwater quality, including community groups, residents, businesses and landowners concerned about fresh water.

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Kane said everyone agreed that fresh water quality was important to the region and recognised that the threat to water quality came from a combination of different communities.

“We identified the risks and our aims for the future – and came up with 60 different action points to ensure not only community wellbeing but that of the various ecosystems,” she said.

The result was an integrated community catchment plan that provided a roadmap for regenerative action, communication across different sectors, and a sharing of knowledge and tools.

In 2019, WAI Wānaka was given funding to set up rural catchment groups.

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The catchment has five groups of large landowners who meet regularly to discuss issues and best practices on topics such as winter grazing, greenhouse gas emissions, water quality, biodiversity and soil health.

“They’ve also co-ordinated quarterly water tests for three years to understand the effect- of land use on farm streams,” Kane said.

Each group identified the objectives for their catchment and worked out what they needed to do to meet those objectives.

“They are in their fourth year now and the groups are still going and refreshing their work plans.”

On-farm work in the area was helped by Jobs for Nature Funding, which allowed work teams to go on farms to monitor biodiversity and help with native planting, plant maintenance, wilding pine control and animal pest control.

“It gave farmers a huge boost for three years.”

WAI Wānaka is now working to grow a network of urban groups to look after the local water sources and broader ecosystems in the Upper Clutha townships.

“‘It’s great that both urban and rural are working towards understanding their impact and taking action to reduce it.”

However, Kane said facilitating an urban meeting was more challenging.

Farmers have a common interest and usually know their neighbours well enough to invite them along to a meeting. But this wasn’t the case in an urban environment, she said.

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“We’re still less than a year into the programme and we’ve seen some success.”

Kane said the Lakeside Road Enhancement Group in collaboration with Te Kakano and Wānaka Backyard Trapping had removed invasive plants, including willows and lupin, replanted the lakefront with natives and started a trapping network.

The group was now working on a stormwater monitoring programme to understand what was entering the lake and work out a plan to mitigate it.

Kane said WAI Wānaka wasn’t looking to replace existing groups but hoped to encourage more people to work together for a bigger impact.

The purpose is to give urban action groups the knowledge and tools they need to preserve and improve the health of urban streams or stormwater – and the surrounding ecosystems.

The Young Environmental Collective, known as yo.eco also approached WAI Wānaka about starting a group.

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WAI Wānaka provided facilitation and coordination for the group to get started and develop a work plan.

They are 18 to 30-year-olds who rent and are unlikely to stay in the same location for years – but they care about the local environment and formed a group so they could weigh in on issues, Kane said.

Kane said Lake Wānaka Tourism was leading this with WAI Wānaka supporting the initiative.

Many farmers are already running tourism businesses and there is an opportunity to expand this to environmental work, including biodiversity monitoring.

Kane said WAI Wānaka played a role in ensuring that the group had access to the latest research and had helped to develop catchment-wide tools to help landowners understand the influences their actions have on water quality.

This article was originally published in Rural Guardian.

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