Waihopai named most improving river

The Waihopai River was awarded the Supreme Award for Most Improved River at the New Zealand River Awards 2019 in Wellington last night.

Environment Southland chairman Nicol Horrell said a lot of work was being done in this river catchment, but also across Southland to improve our waterways.

“I’m extremely proud to receive this award on behalf of the Waihopai catchment community,” he said. “Environment Southland, the Invercargill City Council, farmers, industry, and the local community joined together over 10 years ago with the aim of turning this river around, and this award is a recognition of that dedication.”

Of particular note is the investment and effort that has gone into riparian planting and fencing by farmers in the catchment. Around 90km of streambank fencing, extensive riparian planting, several new stock crossings and a couple of reticulated stock water systems – are all helping to keep stock out of waterways. Schools, including Woodlands Full Primary School, and community groups like the Girl Guides, have played an important part in planting, weeding and maintaining a number of riparian areas along the Waihopai River.

Important improvements have also been made to the wastewater systems by industry and Invercargill City Council.

“It’s been a whole community effort, and everyone who’s planted a tree, put in some fencing, invested financially or in kind to any upgrades deserves this recognition. It’s a great pat on the back,” Chairman Horrell said.

The ‘Most Improved River Award’ is made for a river or stream that shows the greatest improvement in a pre-determined water quality measure at a specific monitoring site. The award is based on trend information over the past 10 years.

This year judges looked at a combination of E. coli levels and the Macroinvertebrate Community Index (MCI) to determine the most improving sites. The Waihopai River, located near Invercargill, is improving significantly in both areas, with E. coli dropping 6.1% per annum and its Macroinvertebrate Community Index rising 1.9% per annum over the past decade.

Macroinvertebrates are small animals that have no backbone or internal skeleton large enough to be visible to the naked eye, such as insects, freshwater crayfish, worms, and snails. Generally, the greater the diversity, the better the water quality in the stream.

Although the Waihopai River is this year’s supreme winner, the river is by no means pristine. River health is getting better, but considerable improvement is still needed to make the river swimmable and its MCI levels are still poor.

“Environment Southland has an extensive work programme underway across Southland focused on water, and we have strong relationships with many local groups, industries and territorial authorities. These relationships provide the platform for us to continue to make the significant changes needed in our region to improve water quality for our communities now and in the future,” Chairman Horrell said.

“We know we have a long way to go, but I am confident we are on the right track, and this award confirms that changes made on the ground do lead to the improvements we all want to see.”