The New Zealand River Awards are held annually to celebrate improvement in river water quality. Awards are given to the most improved river in each region and nationally. The winners are determined as the one showing the greatest long-term improvement based on a specific water quality indicator. This is decided by an independent judging panel from three research institutions using statistical analysis of monitoring data from LAWA. Each year a different indicator is used and in 2017 e-coli levels was used. The awards are hosted by the Cawthron Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that encourages sharing of ideas and knowledge around science and the environment.
At the 5th annual awards held in November 2017, the Pahau River in the Hurunui-Waiau catchment won the supreme award for the Most Improved River in New Zealand. In the last ten years there has been a 15.6% year on year trend reduction in E. Coli levels at monitoring sites along the Pahau River.
AIC and Environment Canterbury (ECan) jointly accepted this award. In doing so, we were delighted that the commitment and hard work of the Pahau Enhancement Group, the wider local community and landowners has been recognised in achieving this positive result.
In 2001, an algal bloom was found in the Hurunui River and ECan tracked the source of the problem to the Pahau River. The Pahau Enhancement Group was formed by the farming community to address this and wider water quality concerns. The first step for farmers was to eliminate all run-off water from farms. Some farmers chose to convert to spray irrigation while others constructed ponds to capture and recycle irrigation water.
AIC built on this earlier work, establishing an Environmental Collective in 2013 and more recently upgrading it’s schemes to new pipe networks. Nearly 85% of shareholders can irrigate from the piped supply supporting more sustainable use of water. Only 1% of shareholders still use border dyke irrigation and have moved to more efficient spray irrigation. Border dyke irrigation was previously responsible for large amounts of wipe-off water, which is high in phosphorus, sediment and E. Coli, going into the Pahau River.
The award acknowledges that results and improvements can be achieved when a community works together as our local farming community voluntarily embraced the need for change and invested in farm improvements of their own accord working in partnership with ECan and others to make change happen. This was done through riparian plantings, shifting to more efficient irrigation systems, fencing of rivers and the implementation of Farm Environment Plans.
These enhancements are making a very real difference to the water quality in the Pahau and other waterways across the Amuri Basin. We know the condition of the river can be further improved and we will continue to work hard to make positive changes in the other three indicator areas. This is a long-term project but this award recognises that we are on the right track.