Wednesday, 26 September 2018

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Harbour and catchment management plan – a shared responsibility

By Jack Biddle

The Waikato Regional Council (WRC) are about to embark on a harbour and catchment management plan which will include around 54,000 hectares of land from Waitaia Bay and as far south as Sailors Grave. Included in the main objectives of the plan is the need to reduce sedimentation in rivers, harbours and estuaries, improve water quality, reduce flood risk for people, and to sustain the mauri of the catchment.

Emily O’Donnell, the Harbour & Catchment Management Advisor for the WRC, is heading up this project. “It’s a big picture plan,” says Emily. “It’s about looking at the catchments as a whole and all the potential contributors to sedimentation, but the answers don’t always lie with the obvious. To complete the objectives we need to start at the very beginning and find out what all the causes of sedimentation in our rivers and streams actually include.”

Emily says that while sedimentation is a natural process, current sedimentation rates are not. Work in other areas and long term studies highlight the collective sediment contributions from regenerating native bush, as well as land uses such as urbanisation, farming, forestry, and roading infrastructure. There are a number of things which can be done to manage this, including retiring vulnerable areas from grazing, wetland creation, and restoration and enhanced sediment trapping.

When asked about forestry, Emily noted that Central Government recently introduced a new National Environmental Standard (NES) for Plantation Forestry that supersedes many of the Regional Council rules that control this activity. While the new standards may have its benefits, it’s unclear as to how or if these rules will assist in ensuring sediment run off from plantation forests in environments like the Coromandel.

While the WRC focus for integrated catchment management is nothing new. The WRC has had a harbour and catchment plan programme since 2008 with the greater Coromandel being given regional priority since 2010. The initial concentration was on areas such as Whangapoua, Tairua, Whangamata, and Opoutere.  Additional funding to support the next stage of this project was approved in the WRC’s long term plan.

“It takes a big effort from the community to make such a big environmental change,” says Emily. “The key ingredient in making a difference to the environment, is to include a wide range of people and expertise. Harbour and catchment plans are non-statutory.  Nobody is legally required to carry out any of the recommended actions, so to be successful they rely heavily on people and organisations to help develop them and then assist in taking the required action. As an example, in some of the rural areas there are several generations of families that have seen many environmental and lifestyle changes over the years. Their input and knowledge is going to be just as vital as the scientific studies the WRC will undertake.”   

The WRC is promising regular media and website updates on progress. One of the first steps promised is a letter which will go out to all ratepayers outlining the plan, and asking for expressions of interest from those who feel they have something to contribute.   

Once the information gathering process is completed, a plan will be drawn up that will reflect those collective visions, key concerns, and aspirations for the future. It will then be up to all concerned to play their part in delivering the actions to ensure we have a healthy catchment and healthy harbour.

“The other key message we want to get across to people is we don’t have to wait for the official harbour and catchment plan to be released to start taking positive action. If ideas and agreement come out of our workshops that can help the environment then there is no reason why they can’t be implemented straight away.  After all, we see this not as a standalone WRC plan but more a plan for the community to get behind and be involved in,” adds Emily.

The Informer will provide updates on progress and keep in regular contact with Emily and the WRC in general on this important issue.

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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.