Work on freshwater in Southland is a nationwide first

  • Jan 13, 2021
  • Upper Hutt Leader

Stewart Bull says he loses his mana when he has to tell visitors to his Takutai o Te Tītī Marae not to eat the kai moana.

“I don’t collect kai moana off the beach any more, at this stage. I know what’s going on, and I advise my children not to go and collect it either.

“It’s not good to stand on your marae and go ‘don’t touch the kai moana’...where is your mana if you have to stand on your own marae and express that to your visitors who are coming in?’’

“But I think we’re going to get on top of that, so we can touch it.’’


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For Bull, it’s about ki uta ki tai, from the mountains to the sea.

But the waters that flow from the Southern Alps to the Southern Ocean on the province’s coast aren’t always healthy, and that has an effect on southern kai moana, and the customs around collecting it.

A freshwater quality survey shows that of the 61 sites where e-coli is monitored in the province’s rivers and streams, only 10 are suitable for swimming.

Bull wanted to leave a legacy for his children, so he became part of the long-term solution to address freshwater quality in Southland in his work with Te Ao Marama [the Ngāi Tahu ki Murihiku natural resource agency].

In a nationwide first, the agency and Environment Southland spent two years working together to identify the things that are important to people about water in Southland.

It identified 18 values which included everything from ecosystem health, irrigation, and water supply for both humans and animals, to hydro-electric power generation and community well-being and connectiveness.

Te Ao Marama led a workstream to establish values and outcomes at a catchment level.

The two organisations then wove together their findings into one set of draft environmental outcomes for the whole region.

What they identified will set the directives for the next phase of the council’s People, Water and Land Programme Te Mana o te Tangata, te Whenua, to improve land and water in the region.

The work was peer reviewed by Alistair Small, of the Greater Wellington Regional Council.

He says their report was ‘’a very comprehensive and potentially groundbreaking piece of work”.

“This should not be underestimated, and should be celebrated. The simple fact that it is a joint report from Environment Southland and Te Ao Marama makes it a powerful tool for future decision-making.’’

Environment Southland People, Water and Land programme manager Bonny Lawrence said the regional forum (a group of community members) would meet regularly during the next two years to look at how Southland could get to the outcomes that had been identified.

The council was also working closely with territorial authorities because the package had implications for how they managed wastewater and stormwater, Lawrence said.

Bull says he appreciates how much work has already been done and the relationships that have been formed.

“We have spent a lot of years trying to build those relationships and I do believe that Murihiku is leading the way, and I've heard it said nationally that the relationships that we have built over this time is being used as a template of how that interaction happens between Maori and Pakeha, for want of a better word.’’

“Instead of people talking about each other, we’re talking with each other now, we’re trying to find solutions together about how we will address the problem that we’re trying to deal with, for us and our children afterwards.”

“I’m pretty happy that we’ve come to a place where we’re recognising te mana o te wai.’’ [The integrated and holistic well-being of the water].

Environment Southland chairman Nicol Horrell said it was important work, and identifying the values and objectives was a milestone.

“It’s pretty exciting that we are on the journey, and I believe that within five years we’ll see significant improvement. A lot of action’s happening on the ground, and if you talk to people they say now ‘what do we have to do?’ Five years ago people were saying ‘is there a problem?” Horrell said.

“Te mana o te wai actually turned things upside down and puts the health and the mana of the water first and that’s a huge change and it will lead to a high raising of the bar going forward.’’

But he said some science was ‘’quite confronting,’’ and while change couldn’t happen overnight, the council needed to set achievable milestones for people with shorter time frames, rather than setting a large, long-term goal.

“I think if we work that way, and we see results, we’re going to get there faster ... there’s not one big silver bullet, but a thousand little interventions – that’s the challenge for the farming community and myself, to think ‘lets do one little thing each year’, and those things will cumulatively take us well down the track. ’’

On his own farm, Horrell had made changes to his operations to improve water quality.

He is doing a lot more direct drilling, leaving critical source areas alone, and riparian planting with natives to leave a legacy for future generations.

“Water is the lifeblood of any nation ... our future prosperity, I believe, has got to have that basis behind it to sell to the world high quality products and all manner of things.’’