Wainono Lagoon Restoration

July 2015

Farm environment plans created for those in the catchment feeding the Wainono Lagoon

The Wainono Restoration Project includes writing farm environment plans for landowners in the Hook catchment which flows into the Wainono Lagoon. This is to improve water quality and habitat for fish and birds by reducing sediment loss and farm runoff.

The plans come on top of fencing and riverbank works including sediment traps, detention bunds and stream battering (reshaping banks, grassing and planting) to stop sediment reaching the Lagoon.

The model developed for the Hook is starting to be extended to the other three catchments feeding the Lagoon. The approach could be helpful for other critical catchments in Canterbury and around the country.

The Lagoon is important to the Ngāi Tahu hapū of the area as an historic mahinga kai-food gathering area and is nationally significant for its birds and native fish. Development of land for farming in contributing catchments and increasing intensification have led to the Lagoon being filled with silt and polluted by phosphorus and nitrogen, causing frequent algal blooms.

Environment Canterbury has made restoration of the Wainono Lagoon one of three flagship projects, under its Canterbury Water Management Strategy. The restoration sees farmers in the Hook catchment working together with Environment Canterbury, central government, Ngāi Tahu rūnanga and other interested individuals and organisations as part of a five-year programme likely to cost nearly $2.5 million.

Environment Canterbury kicked off this flagship programme with $150,000 of Canterbury Water Management Strategy Immediate Steps funding. The regional water management zone committee committed $120,000, paid out over five years.

The lower Waitaki-South Coastal Canterbury Zone Committee made a one-off grant of $30,000 and successfully applied to the Ministry for the Environment Fresh Start for Freshwater Fund, receiving $800,000 and an additional $645,000 from Environment Canterbury.

Landowners and other stakeholders are also giving time and money to this restoration project, now in its third year.

The Wainono Restoration Project is about realising environmental, economic and social goals, initially in the Hook catchment which is one of four flowing into Wainono Lagoon.

Farmer Robin Murphy, says the community has picked up and run with a Farm Environment Plan approach initiated and led by the Lower Waitaki Water Management Zone Committee he chairs. “Through the Hook Catchment Group, people from all styles of farming are starting to talk to one another, led by the zone committee.”

There are about 40 farms in the Hook where a varied topography supports land use ranging from growing berries to dryland; irrigated sheep and beef and dairying. Farmers manage their properties to suit the ebb and flow of the Hook River which often dries up in summer, including irrigating from bores and the river.

So far, all farmers approached in the catchment have agreed to have their properties surveyed, to help prioritise how money would be best spent.

Workshops are being held to initiate farm environment plans. Advisers then work with individuals to write plans tailored to their property, including measures which will directly help water quality in the Hook River and Wainono Lagoon.

Seventeen plans have been completed, covering roughly half of the farmers in the catchment. In August 2014, work started on earthworks to reduce the flow of sediment into the lagoon. Stream battering, building sediment traps and armouring of stream banks with rocks is well underway along with fencing and streams and drains and planting native species from the area. Culverts and bridges which obstruct fish migration are being rebuilt and water reticulated to stock fenced out of waterways.

Nineteen kilometres of waterway have been fenced from stock, one alternative stock water supply installed and a public planting day and workshop held. Landowners pay one third of the cost of works, mostly by contributing labour.

Farm plans identify environmental risks on each property. Some are inherent to the farm landscape such as slope, soil type and waterways which could flood and others relate to farm type and management. Risks are not necessarily physical, for example staff might speak English as a second language, be inexperienced, or not know what to do if things go wrong.

The plans give farmers the knowledge to manage or even eliminate environmental risks.

The first step is telling the farmer what a farm plan is, the advantages of having one and what writing one for their business would involve. This is usually done through public meetings attended by not just farmers, but also walkers, bird-watchers and others who enjoy the area.

This is followed by a workshop where farmers are given aerial photos and soil maps of their property and start drafting the bones of their plan with a land management consultant. Then there is a one-on-one on-farm visit to fill in details, identify action steps, and check that all risks have been identified. A draft is written and sent back to the farmer for checking and their agreement.

Farmers in the Hook catchment have been pleasantly surprised at the process, especially liking the one-on-one approach used. They are proving willing not just to meet, but exceed their plans’ environmental bottom lines.

The Lower Waitaki water management zone committee is looking to extend the Farm Environment Plan approach to the other three catchments feeding the Hook, if funding can be found. Already farm plans are being written for farmers in the Waihao River.

Share-raising is underway for the Hunter Downs Irrigation Scheme, which has consent to irrigate up to 40,000 hectares in South Canterbury from the Waitaki to just south of Timaru. Ngāi Tahu withdrew its appeal against the scheme after being assured some take would be dedicated to improving Wainono water quality and it was offered a governance role.

Engineers have not yet prepared plans showing how the scheme could improve water quality in the Lagoon while intensifying farming in its catchments. Construction could be completed before 2020, if the scheme is shown to be technically and commercially viable.