by Mike Birch, Taueru farmer, Ruamahanga Restoration Trust trustee and WaiP2K Forum member
A catchment community group is a gathering of people, working together, who identify with a geographical area. There are many reasons to form a catchment group including improving water quality and biodiversity, having a stronger voice with councils, access to funding and building a stronger community.
I was a member of the Ruamahanga Whaitua Committee, which was formed to provide recommendations to Greater Wellington Regional Council for land and water management in the Ruamahanga catchment. In 2018, we published recommendations which included the promotion and support of “catchment communities” as one of the key mechanisms for achieving freshwater objectives.
The Ruamahanga Whaitua Committee also recommended that Greater Wellington supports and contributes to the continued development of the Wairarapa Pūkaha to Kawakawa Alliance (WaiP2K), a community-led network that has been actively helping to set up catchment groups and facilitate meetings. Last September WaiP2K announced a partnership with Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), which includes
$1.1 million funding for growing and supporting farmer-led catchment groups throughout the region over the next two years.
WaiP2K has formed a “Catchment Communities Steering Group” which will appoint a regional coordinator to help get new groups started and to encourage networking between groups. It’s one thing to get new groups started and another to keep them going. Existing groups have often found that it’s difficult to maintain momentum and keep groups going if you rely on volunteers to administer and coordinate the group.
The MPI funding will help to pay for this work. Funding will also be available for predator control, technical advice, water quality testing and farmer mental health (including events and get-togethers). Last week we had a public meeting at the Taueru Hall and we agreed to start a new catchment group. Our group, in the middle part of the Taueru catchment, includes landowners and residents on the Masterton Castlepoint Road. We discussed the reasons why we might want to form a catchment group. Many were interested in water quality monitoring. Others were interested in riparian planting and how to plan for this. Many years ago we saw each other at local church services, or at the pub or school. Not many locals go to church any more and the pub and school are both long gone. A community catchment group might give us a good reason to get together more often.
There were comments and anecdotes about the state of the Taueru River. We talked about flooding and how water quality is affected by farming practices and also by willow removal, forestry harvesting practices and the sticky, invasive giant willow aphid. The Ruamahanga Whaitua Committee identified sediment loss as being a key issue for the Ruamahanga tributaries that drain the eastern hill country, including the Taueru River. About a quarter of all the sediment that ends up at Lake Onoke comes from the eastern hills. This amount is reducing due to the willow and poplar poles that farmers have been planting for decades (with Greater Wellington support), but we can do more as a group to identify the best ways to further reduce it.
There are some existing farmer-led catchment groups in Wairarapa which are making good progress in improving the environment (e.g. Wainuioru Community River Care Group and Upper Waipoua Kaitiaki Group). Now is the time for other Wairarapa communities to step up and take advantage of the funding opportunities. Community catchment groups have the power to do a lot more than the sum of individual effort.
The WaiP2K Catchment Community Group Project wants to hear from you if you are interested in forming a catchment group in your area. Get in touch at email@example.com
This story was originally published in the Wairarapa Times Age