The Waituna Partners’ Group has been successful in gaining funding from the Government’s Freshwater Improvement Fund to further the work already underway in the Waituna catchment.
“This funding is a fantastic endorsement of the hard work, vision and aspirations of all involved in this complex body of work,” Environment Southland chairman Nicol Horrell said.
The Partners (Environment Southland, Department of Conservation, Southland District Council, Te Runanga o Awarua and Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu) have been working together in this special catchment since 2013, and in conjunction with Living Water (Fonterra's 10-year partnership with the Department of Conservation), have agreed to contribute significantly in terms of cash and in-kind support to continue the programme.
Chairman Horrell: “The $5 million dollars of Government funding will go a long way in supporting the Partners and the community to continue to make improvements and get the results we all want for Waituna.
“Waituna is a special area, unique to Southland and New Zealand. This funding will enable us to continue our work programme and deliver results in rehabilitating this diverse ecosystem.
“Over the next few months we’ll be further developing our work programme, providing more detail as required by the fund criteria.”
Freshwater Improvement Fund
Last year the Government approved a $100 million Freshwater Improvement Fund for projects that improve freshwater management. The aim is to make the biggest difference with the available funding, so the focus is on waterbodies in vulnerable catchments.
Environment Southland, on behalf of the Waituna Partners, applied to the Freshwater Improvement Fund requesting $7.309 million over 5 years.
The funding will be matched by contributions from the Partners, a group that will expand to include Living Water (Fonterra's 10-year partnership with the Department of Conservation).
The application for the Whakamana Te Waituna programme outlines several work streams, including
- Developing a landward buffer around the lagoon
- Use of nutrient and sediment interventions to protect the lagoon and tributaries
- Enhance social, cultural and environmental resilience, and improve access to the lagoon for the community as a whole
Ngāi Tahu is supportive of Government’s decision to invest in the Whakamana Te Waituna Programme
Gail Thompson, Te Rūnanga o Awarua, said the Waituna Lagoon and its catchment is an area of cultural significance for Ngāi Tahu, and it is great to see more funding being applied towards its restoration and making the improvements we all want for our future generations.
“Ngāi Tahu have been working hard with the Waituna Partners’ Group since 2012 and this funding is further recognition of the commitment and great work we have already undertaken,” said Gail Thompson.
“We hope that one day the Lagoon and its catchment can be restored so that future generations can access its resources,” she said.
Department of Conservation Southern South Island Operations Director (acting) Harry Maher: “This is great news for the biological diversity and cultural values of the Waituna lagoon and catchment. This funding will go a long way in helping the partners continue this work on this complex and collaborative project.”
Southland District Council
Southland District Mayor Gary Tong: “I totally support all the work done around the Waituna catchment in the past and Southland District Council is right behind enhanced efforts to help protect this world-renowned area in the future.
“It’s great that Environment Southland is taking the lead as part of a multi-agency effort which also involves local farmers, residents and land care groups.
“A lot of time, effort and good science is being put into getting it right, so that Waituna’s unique ecology is protected for future generations.”
What makes Waituna special?
The Waituna Lagoon is one of the best remaining examples of a natural coastal lagoon in New Zealand, and is unique in our region and to New Zealand. From time to time, the lagoon has been mechanically opened to the sea initially for fish passage and latterly to help manage drainage for surrounding farms. Waituna Wetland is a taonga (treasure of high significance) to Ngāi Tahu and was formally recognised by a Statutory Acknowledgement under the Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998.
Historically the lagoon was surrounded by peat bog wetland, the drainage from which gave the lagoon its characteristic clear brown stain. It has high ecological habitat diversity, a unique macrophyte community (Ruppia dominated), internationally important birdlife, and large areas of relatively unmodified wetland and terrestrial vegetation, meaning it has a number of nationally significant ecosystems. In addition, it is highly valued for its aesthetic appeal, its rich biodiversity, duck shooting, fishing (for brown trout primarily), boating, walking, and scientific values.
The significance of the indigenous flora and fauna of Waituna Lagoon and the surrounding wetland (an area of 3,500ha) was given special recognition in 1976 as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. The extent of the Ramsar site was increased in 2008 to include nearby wetland areas now totalling 20,000ha.
Waituna Lagoon sits at the bottom of a small (approximately 20,000ha), intensively farmed catchment. The lagoon is fed by three main waterways – Waituna, Moffat, and Carran Creeks. The catchment and lagoon contribute to the wider economy of the region and the livelihoods for many hundreds of people, through agriculture, tourism, recreational experiences and food harvesting. It has been, and continues to be, a special place for the local, national and international community over many generations.
What are the challenges for Waituna?
The Waituna catchment has undergone many years of land development, which along with changes in lagoon water levels, has put the health of the lagoon and its tributaries under stress. As such, the catchment and lagoon require ongoing active management to improve their ecological condition. This is to reduce the risk of the lagoon changing from having clear water and an aquatic environment dominated by aquatic macrophyte plants such as Ruppia, to one which has turbid and murky water dominated by algal slime and other suspended phytoplankton.
Land development has included: drainage of wetland areas; clearance of indigenous vegetation; and more recent land use intensification since the 1950s when the main tributaries to the Waituna Lagoon were straightened, and Government schemes cleared and developed land and encouraged other people to do so as well. Changing water levels in the lagoon mean that farming in the lower parts of the catchment can be challenging.
There has been significant investment by various parties to develop a greater understanding of the catchment and lagoon, and to start addressing the challenges.
Success to date includes:
- an increased awareness and knowledge of the issues among the local community
- considerable infrastructure investment by landowners
- the formal creation of a partnership by the statutory agencies to coordinate the efforts in the catchment and lagoon
- development of a Strategy and Action Plan for Waituna with the local community.