We can’t make any more water. Whether it’s pumping through our bloodstream, trickling down a creek, flushing down a toilet or crashing as a wave onto a beach, there’s always the same amount of water for Planet Earth, endlessly recycling through the water cycle.

To some extent, it gets “cleaned up” as it goes through the water cycle, but in many places our “fresh” water isn’t all that clean. But finding out what’s in our waterways and how we can improve their water quality, is a focus for many Catchment Community Groups (CCGs) in the Wairarapa.

“One of the main reasons CCGs get involved in water testing is because there are water quality regulations to meet and they want to know what ‘the numbers’ are on their farms and in their catchments,” says Esther Dijkstra, General Manager of Operations for the Pūkaha to Kawakawa Alliance (WaiP2K). “But we’re also encouraging people to look at the bigger picture. If there’s sediment in the water, where’s it coming from and what could be done about it? What’s the source of the nitrates and phosphates in the stream? Are there ‘pools, riffles and runs’ which provide oxygen, habitats and shade, or has the waterway been modified? If you want to take meaningful action as a group, then you need that bigger picture to help you make decisions.”

WaiP2K has two part-time facilitators to support these groups, and has also just contracted Tessa Bunny as a Freshwater Technician to help with in-stream sampling, the recording of monitoring data, and assisting with workshops.

“It’s not a service where you just dial up and someone comes and does it for you,” says Esther. “The idea is that groups can learn from the experience of working with a water technician, both in terms of getting confident with the tests and tools as well as really getting to know their waterways.”

There are two main types of testing which our local CCGs are involved in. One is using the Stream Health Monitoring and Assessment Kit (SHMAK)​​. This is an observational process which includes tools to assess things like the clarity of the water and the types of stream life.
This is carried out at regular intervals, in certain locations and under different conditions to build a picture over time. All the observations and tests are done on the riverbank.

The other type of testing involves taking water samples and sending them off to a laboratory, to be tested for levels of nitrates, phosphates and ecoli.

Both methods of testing are useful in figuring out what’s happening locally, with the water in our local area, so that we can take action to make it healthy. Given that about 90 percent of the blood that pumps through our veins is that very same water, healthy water is good for all of us!

Wakamoekau Catchment Group on their recent stream walk (Credit: Richard Parkes)

Wakamoekau Catchment Group on their recent stream walk (Credit: Richard Parkes)

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Liz Gibson from Mountains to Sea shows the Parkvale Catchment Group what invertebrates live in the upper reaches of their catchment.