An idyllic corner of New Zealand’s South Island is the backdrop to a story about a rural community and their drive to improve local water quality.
Like many similar waterways around the country, the Sherry River began to feel the effects of increasing levels of farming and forestry activity. Attention was first drawn to the river when researchers from the Motueka Integrated Catchment Management Programme analysed water quality in all the tributaries within the Motueka River catchment. Issues included high E. coli levels that exceeded standards for bathing and stock drinking. The results shocked farmers and landowners… something needed to be done!
Farmers began to look at the links between stock and water quality. In 2007 NZ Landcare Trust helped facilitate larger community meetings and encouraged landowners to get together and form the Sherry River Catchment Group. This gave them a collective voice and provided a platform to gain funding and achieve even more... a successful 3 year Sustainable Farming Fund (SFF) project.
Real progress was made keeping stock out of waterways using bridges and fencing off waterways. Other improvements included individual Landowner Environment Farm Plans that provide detailed information about stock management, limiting soil erosion and reducing run-off. Since monthly testing began in 2003, contamination has fallen from a median of 400 E. coli per 100 millilitres of water to 170, and is on track next year to hit 150.
The project has attracted international attention including a recent visit from Kevin Parris, OECD Trade & Agriculture Directorate, who commended the work of local communities and the contribution they are making to cleaning up waterways.