Delight as Otuihau-Hatea water quality improvement project funded

22 Jun 2017, 11:26 AM

Long-running attempts to improve water quality issues at the iconic Whangarei Falls have been given a $250,000-plus boost from the Ministry for the Environment’s Community Environment Fund.

Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith confirmed the $258,000 funding – to be paid out over the next three years – during a visit to Whangarei today.

The project aims to improve water quality at the falls because of the high community interest and value attributed to the area, thrilling the Northland Regional Council, which will make its own $150,000 cash contribution from its own Environment Fund over the same period.

The falls sit just within the western boundary of the council’s Coastal Central constituency and the area’s Tutukaka-based representative, Councillor Paul Dimery, says the project focusses on improving water quality by:

  • Contributing funding for riparian fencing and planting
  • Contributing to stock water systems where needed to help enable fencing
  • Signage at the falls reserve to help educate the community on the values of the water there (including cultural and ecological) and what people can do to help.

Councillor Dimery says there’s already strong collaboration within a broad community group overseeing the project, including the regional council, its Whangarei District counterpart, Whitebait Connection, Pehiaweri Marae, Tikipunga Community Development Trust (including Tiki Pride) and the Northland District health Board.

“The MfE funding is a great boost to these efforts and while it certainly won’t be an overnight process, collectively this work should ultimately make a noticeable difference to water quality over time.”

Councillor Paul Dimery and Lorna Douglas.Regional councillor Paul Dimery and the council's Farm Plan Manager Lorna Douglas are thrilled with extra funding to help improve water quality at the swimming site above the Whangarei Falls.

Lorna Douglas, the regional council’s Farm Plan Manager, says stronger rules proposed by the Whangarei Harbour Catchment Group to help improve water quality are also due to come into force within the next several years under the council’s draft Regional Plan.

“These will also help, as they will legally require landowners to fence stock out of waterways upstream of a number of identified swimming sites, including the falls.”

Ms Douglas says the area just above the 26-metre high Whangarei Falls has been a popular freshwater swimming spot – especially over summer – for many years.

“However, over recent years water quality hasn’t met recreational bathing standards roughly a third of the time it’s been tested over a typical summer, and we’ve been working closely with the district council to try to improve this.”

She says testing showed the main sources of bacteria in its water are from either wild birds or stock in the Hatea River catchment, with water quality issues worse after heavy rain.

“Fencing stock away from waterways will not only reduce bacterial levels, it will also lessen the amount of sediment from streambank erosion finding its way into the water, which will improve water clarity too.”

Councillor Dimery says the work will also help to make the falls a more pleasant and potentially safer destination for the thousands of locals and tourists – both domestic and international – who visit each year.