Beneath our vision of an unspoilt Tairawhiti with perfect rivers and streams and beaches – there is often a different reality. Our lowland waterways suffer pollution from sediment, pathogens and nutrients. Freshwater in some areas is in crisis. In early May, a two day mini-conference hosted by Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti, Te Mana o Te Wai Tairāwhiti, will challenge us to change that.
Many consider that New Zealand is facing a freshwater catastrophe. According to some sources, freshwater quality has become so poor that 74% of our native freshwater species are now facing extinction, while 61% of monitored waterways are now deemed unsafe for swimming.
With a number of lowland waterways, the East Coast faces these pollution problems. According to sources, over the past decade, river water quality in our region has deteriorated significantly.
Te Mana o Te Wai Tairāwhiti, a two-day freshwater conference, will address this issue and design a community-led way forward that ensures our rivers, lakes and streams are able to support life for future generations.
Victor Walker, chairman of the Uawanui Project governance group, says it is time that we start to take action as a community. And, while there is already some ground-breaking work being done around the Coast, he sees this conference as a very important step in bringing the entire community together.
“Freshwater impacts the environmental, economic, spiritual and physical wellbeing of our communities. The way in which we respond to the constant degradation of our waterways will define our region for generations to come.
“The Freshwater Conference 2017 will explore how can we ensure that East Coast freshwater remains the source of life for all things – our waiora. It will present both matauranga and science around our understanding of water quality on the East Coast, and how we manage it.”
Nationally respected land and water scientists will join those who are already pioneering this work locally. They will lead presentations, workshops and open discussions aimed at addressing significant issues facing the Coast’s freshwater supply, including sediment from erosion and polluted waterways.
Attendees will also get an in-depth understanding of the nationally significant Uawanui Project – a collaborative approach by Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti and the Uawa Tolaga Bay community. The Uawanui Project has committed to an integrated approach to sustainable land management and restoration across the Uawa River Catchment to achieve the vision of He Manawa Whenua – He Oranga Tangata (Healthy Environment – Healthy People).
“For our community – this conference presents an opportunity to understand the freshwater situation on the Coast. It asks – What are the problems and what can we do about them? It’s an opportunity to take ownership – to set our own freshwater standards and put in place the projects and solutions that will get us there.
Conference co-organiser Manu Caddie says it’s also an opportunity for our leaders to take the pulse of our community.
“This conference presents an opportunity to understand first-hand the real issues facing our region in relation to freshwater and the innovative solutions being created within a community that takes its kaitiakitanga seriously,” he says.
Mr Caddie says the team is hoping for a large and diverse turn-out. This conference aims to avoid the often political nature of the freshwater debate – that can put some people off. It is about understanding the situation – and seeing what we can all do about it.
“Every single one of us has a connection to our local waterways. Some of us live by them, some of us work by them. We farm, we grow crops and forests, we hunt, we swim, we fish and we drink the stuff. By that logic, every single one of us should have the opportunity to take stock and talk about our hopes and dreams for our waterways,” he says.
Organised in partnership with the Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti Centre of Excellence, this is the second event in the Vision Matauranga mini-conference series supported by Massey University, Hikurangi Enterprises, Eastland Community Trust, and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
Te Mana o Te Wai Tairāwhiti is scheduled for May 3rd and 4th at Hauiti Marae and Tolaga Bay Area School. Registration is free and more information including the full programme is available here.
Register for the event here.