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Work to improve Otuihau catchment

This page contains information about the ongoing improvements at Otuihau.
Updated: 16/07/2018 3:06 p.m.

Clean water is a constant effort - you can help too

"When Council began improving the sewer network about 10 years ago our aim was very clear," said solid waste and drainage manager Andrew Carvell.

"We wanted to eliminate harbour closures and shellfish gathering bans caused when stormwater flooded the sewer network and spilt stormwater containing untreated sewage into the harbour. Sewage contains bacteria such as E.coli and spills raised the risk of people getting infections or illnesses if they swam or waded in the water or ate shellfish and wetfish from a contaminated area.

"Now harbour closures caused by wet-weather sewage spills are a thing of the past – major improvements. Expansion of our sewer system has paid off.

New challenge

"Now we face a new question – what else can be done to keep waterways clean and how clean can they actually get? Can water really be 100% swimmable, 100% of the time? This is a question people working on the Waiataua Awa Restoration Project and the Otuihau Working Group have been addressing.

"The project’s aim is to bring the quality of the water at Otuihau - Whangarei Falls up to a swimmable level by reducing the amount of E.coli that gets into the water. This E.coli is not coming from sewage systems, but from birds and animals in the environment.

"Planting along stream sides filters rainwater as it runs across land into waterways and fencing of stream sides in rural areas stops cattle and other livestock from getting into the water.

"All of those measures will help to improve water quality at Otuihau – Whangarei Falls. However, it is unlikely that the result of this work will be water quality that is 100% swimmable 100% of the time at the falls.

"There are several reasons why. Probably no river (certainly not Northland’s lowland type rivers) would ever realistically be able to be branded “swimmable” 100% of the time. During heavy rain, faecal matter which contains bacteria and pathogens from cattle, sheep, dogs, birds, possums, rats, mice, stoats etc) washes off the land into water. Even in native forested catchments (e.g. Waipoua Forest), water quality is not considered “swimmable” 100% of the time, due to natural occurrences of bacteria in the water. The source of this ‘natural’ bacteria in forested catchments is unclear, but could be linked to pest animals or plant decay.

“Summers like the one we have just had, very rainy and warm enable bacteria to survive longer than they would normally do in colder environments.

"So, where does that leave us? We will continue to work hard to reduce contamination in our waterways and to make them as swimmable as they can be. It is a goal that all of the agencies and volunteers involved in the Waiataua Awa Restoration Project have bought into and the good fight will continue," Mr Carvell said.

On-going improvements at Otuihau

If you noticed that Whangarei’s prized Otuihau – Whangarei Falls was looking particularly shipshape this summer it was because Council’s parks team and contractors gave it a major tidy up just before Christmas.

The work added to many improvements made to the carparking area and surrounds during the last couple of years. This has included removing vegetation on the opposite far side of the bridge from the carpark so it can be grassed, creating a visual flow across the whole site.

New picnic tables and seating will be installed. All the existing picnic tables and seating under the trees near the carpark will be replaced.

An old piece of path will be removed and the section that connects with the bridge side across from the carpark will be widened and improved, along with the section of path from the disability path that connects the top of the walking track to the falls.

Report fly tipping

In recent months several large fly tipping sites have been identified around the region. These dangerous sites have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to clean up, sometimes requiring cranes, road closures and workers in abseiling gear.

Fly-tipping is not just ugly. It can also cause major environmental harm. There can be all sorts of pollutants in fly tipping sites from rotting food to toxic chemicals to used nappies, to engine oil.

As the rain hits these sites, the pollutants run to the lowest point and that is usually a nearby stream. It may even be one that people are drawing their household water supplies from downstream.

Don’t fly tip.

If you see a fly tipping site, report it fast.

Planting days

Community planting days are held over winter to plant streamsides on Council reserve land in the catchment. Usually all you need to do is turn up with warm clothing, gumboots and a spade. Keep an eye out for invitations to take part in these fun events that help improve your environment.

For more details contact:

Funding for fencing – are you eligible?

Funding is available for fencing off and planting stream banks that run into the Hatea River above Otuihau - Whangarei Falls.

In its first year the Northland Regional Council's $258,000 Community Environment Fund has helped 15 property owners fence a total 4km of streamside and plant 1140 riparian plants. There are now two years to go and with the planting season approaching Northland Regional Council Farm Plan Manager, Lorna Douglas is keen to see more applications rolling in.

“The fund is being administered by Northland Regional Council with oversight by a working group that has been set up to improve water quality at Otuihau-Whangarei Falls. It includes:

  • Whangarei District Council,
  • Northland District Health Board,
  • Northland Regional Council,
  • Pehiaweri Marae,
  • Tiki Pride and
  • the Whitebait Connection.

“This group got together in 2015 to start making the water at the falls healthier for people to swim in. “A survey in 2015 showed only 10% of streams in the catchment above the falls are fenced and we want to increase that percentage as much as we can over the next two years,” she said.

There are also new rules coming in the Proposed Regional Plan for Northland that will mean fencing waterways upstream of the Falls is required by about 2022.

“The fencing stops stock from getting into the water and weeing and pooing in it. When rain washes contaminants off the land towards water ways, riparian planting helps to trap contaminants and stop them reaching the water, so the two systems work well together.”

If you have a property in the catchment with an unfenced stream, contact Lorna on 0800 002 004.

Don’t feed the ducks

"Don’t feed the ducks” is the clear message from a group of agencies working to improve water quality at Otuihau - Whangarei Falls.

Scientific testing shows that e. coli bacteria found in the water at the falls is coming from wild bird and cattle poo. 

One immediate change people can make to help improve the water quality is stop feeding the ducks.

“The ducks might behave like they are starving, but they aren’t – be strong, don’t give in no matter how demanding (or cute) they are,” said Whangarei District Councillor Tricia Cutforth, who is part of the project group.

“Don’t throw food because where they cluster, they will poo, and if it’s near a swimming spot it and the river downstream are likely to be very contaminated.

“Feeding bread to the ducks is not only bad for the environment, and swimmers, it is bad for the ducks. Bread left to rot in the water provides the perfect breeding ground for poisonous bacteria that can paralyse the bird from the neck down. It is a cruel way for an animal to die.”

Who are we?

Whangarei District Council, Northland District Health Board, Northland Regional Council, Pehiaweri Marae, Tiki Pride and the Whitebait Connection. 



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