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Community drives Orari management strategy

Community drives Orari management strategy

Three years working with people concerned about the Orari River is bearing fruit with a practical management strategy for the river and its catchment, from the headwaters to the sea.

The Orari River Catchment Management Strategy was agreed to at a recent public meeting in Geraldine, South Canterbury. Its goals include the need to protect and enhance the river’s natural values; efficient resource use to promote economic sustainability; and safe and balanced recreational, cultural and historic opportunities.

Already the community’s willingness to contribute valuable information to the river’s sustainable management is apparent, says Environment Canterbury chief executive Dr Bryan Jenkins, a regular attendee at many of the river group’s meetings.

“In the past year, ECan hydrological staff in Timaru have been gathering historical information on river flows, rain records and well levels in the Orari catchment. They have been greatly aided by more than 90 per cent of farmers along the Orari providing personal statistical data. In the case of Orari Station, information dates back to 1882, which makes this resource particularly valuable,” Dr Jenkins said.

“Without the longer-term commitment shown by the past three years of catchment group meetings, bringing in the specialists to talk to local people and exchange information in a frank and friendly way, I am not sure we would have got such a positive response to this river data survey.

“People attending the Orari meetings know that the strategy process is for the long-term good of this river, its tributaries, surrounding land and the people who live here and care about it. Nobody is aiming for any short-term fixes.”

Dr Jenkins said that with many farms staying in the same families for two or three generations, the archive of weather and rainfall data had passed from one generation to the next and it was great to share this across the catchment. The data will now be analysed by ECan hydrology staff, aiming to see if the lack of water in the river’s mid section was caused by climate change or water takes.

The projects outlined in the management strategy will be tackled according to the timelines suggested and based upon getting the required resources. For example, the group may apply for funds from central government or other agencies for some projects.

Many of the actions outlined are ongoing and may not represent a huge departure from the status quo but others need to be further resourced. For example, the river is currently didymo-free, but in order to keep it that way more resources and education are needed to educate and inform all river users - recreationalists, farmers, gravel contractors - on ways to keep the didymo out.

Key issues covered in the strategy include: the river’s flood-carrying capacity and sustainable gravel removal; management of animal and plant pests; careful use of erosion-control plants with a tendency to become plant pests; ways to protect and enhance indigenous vegetation and rare species; protect native wildlife and the habitat of species like the blue duck, falcon, bats, skinks and native insects and fish; water quality monitoring and easy website access through a dedicated Orari catchment website; promoting clean water by keeping stock out of river tributaries and access to funds to offset the cost of fencing and planting stream borders; promoting nutrient budgeting particularly on farms where nitrate and phosphorus levels are high; using local knowledge alongside scientific surveys to build a full picture of the way the river operates and the interaction between ground and river water, rainfall, recharge and water abstraction; community involvement in setting the environmental minimum flow for the river and its tributaries in 2008-09; identifying and helping define with signs public access points to the river; advocating for sustainable water harvesting and storage to reduce the current pressure on the river and groundwater.


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