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Rere project finalist in River Awards

The Rere Water Quality Enhancement Project was one of three finalists in the 2019 New Zealand River Awards handed out this week.

The Rere project was selected in the River Story category, recognising community efforts to improve the health of a river.

The project was described by the judges as an “inspiring story”.

Rere farmer Mark Gemmell and other sheep and beef farmers in the upper Wharekopae catchment have been working on restoring the water quality.

He believed the success of the project had come down to the high level of community buy-in.

“Everyone feels a part of it and we were all pretty excited about the project being a finalist in the awards.”

Mr Gemmell was involved in the project from the start.

“What the Government wants people to do when it comes to water quality we’re already doing, and we are well down the track,” he said.

“From the testing being done, the water quality has been averaging out better than it was and it’s pretty stable.”

The two major features of the river, Rere Falls and Rere Rockslide, have been described as “gifts from nature”.

The Rere Water Quality Enhancement Project was initiated in 2015 after two reports pointed to issues with water quality in the catchment.

“There were semi-bad E.coli levels in the water and we wanted to improve them,” said project manager Sandra Gorringe of Gisborne District Council.

All 15 sheep and beef farmers along the upper Wharekopae catchment became involved, producing farm environment plans designed to enhance the water quality.

“It was really important to get key farmers on board and that happened,” Ms Gorringe said.

The Ministry for the Environment and Beef + Lamb New Zealand were also part of it.

“Early on we had lots of community meetings and field days, and Gisborne District Council staff have been great at explaining the benefits to us.

“They were instrumental in getting the project started,” Mr Gemmell said.

Data showed livestock entering the river was a big contributor to poor water quality and one way to address that was improved fencing.

Funding equivalent to 50 percent of the total cost was provided to farmers to fence the waterway and financial assistance was also provided for riparian planting and for installing reticulation schemes.

“The next step was assistance with farm environment plans and nutrient budgets.

“Through these plans farmers assessed their operations and identified areas where they could make improvements that were environmentally and economically beneficial,” Mr Gemmell said.

“They could then apply to the council for funding assistance to implement improvements, helping to reduce contaminants from farms reaching waterways.”

It was a collaborative project of benefit to everyone, he said.

“We all learned to swim in the Wharekopae, to kayak and fish in it, and I want my grandchildren to have the same benefits of the water and not be affected by the water quality.”

The awards were presented on Thursday night in Wellington. The River Story category was won by the Tasman River in South Canterbury.

Rere Falls.