Sunday, 12 January 2014

Walking and Talking Water Quality in Horowhenua

The trail from Palmerston North ambles up through a little bush track around Massey University and on up past the Turitea Water Treatment Facility. This is where Palmerston North draws much of its drinking water from. You then walk mostly on the road and end up following the course of the Kahuterawa stream, which winds its way down a long valley, through the hills that rise southward along the eastern edge of the Manawatu and Horowhenua. I decided to camp at the picturesque Kahuterawa Reserve and was, to my surprise, later joined by a group of four other hikers. Laura, Pieter, Johanna, and Emmanuel were all TA hikers as well and it was good to have a chat with them before retiring.

Unfortunately for us, this spot was more popular than we thought and we were invaded around eleven PM (on a Thursday!) by a group of teenagers hellbent on getting absolutely plastered until 5:30 in the morning. I would have gotten up and said something about the noise if it wasn't for the undeniable fact that I've done the same thing myself. We left around eight the next day but not before I played some powerful, yet poor harmonica for our new friends. The Kahuterawa stream is not only subject to noise pollution however and it's lower path is now beset with severe weed and pest issues. Sadly, Manawatu has experienced native biodiversity loss of up to 95%. Apparently there is a joint venture between the Army (who occupy nearby Linton Army base) and Massey University to restore the Kahuterawa stream which was formerly home to large numbers of native fish.

We followed the stream along the road for about forty minutes and found that there was actually another good camping area about 4 km down the track which really ground my gears. I walked on ahead of the others for about three hours of easy road and dirt road walking. When I sat down to see how far I'd come, I was dismayed to see it was a paltry ten kilometers. Still can't understand that one, as I had really been moving. I walked on up through some forestry roads and up to Burtons's track, named for Jim Burton who farmed the area between 1908 and 1941. The area is all regenerating bush now and after about three hours you arrrive at a memorial to Jim, who fell from a suspension bridge that he had built over the nearby stream. Jim broke his leg and sustained other injuries in an eight meter fall onto rocks below. He managed to get back to his whare to feed his dog before making what could only have been an excruciating twelve hour walk along his track for the final time. Jim made it to his nearest neighbour's place but died in hospital shortly after.

That night we camped by the Tokumaru number three reservoir. I found out later that the dam provides water to the Mangahao power station on the other side of the hill which has a pretty impressive white water park nearby. The next day involved a solid bush walk through the Tararua Forest park before emerging onto Gladstone Road. At the corner of Gladstone And Poads Road, Nick Simmons picked me up. I can only describe Nick as a thoroughly good bugger. I have been staying with he and his wife Victoria for the last couple of nights waiting out some bad weather on the ranges. They have been amazingly helpful, friendly and encouraging and I am looking forward to working with them on environmental issues into the future.

Victoria is on the Levin city council and she and Nick have given me plenty of information on the local environment. Also, I got a chance to visit a white water event over by Shannon with them and on top of that Victoria put me in touch with the Mayor Brendan Duffy. We had a chat about local water issues and one of the major challenges in the area is the clean up of lake Horowhenua which is owned by the Maupoko iwi. Between 1952 and 1987 the lake had treated sewage dumped into it resulting in eutrophication. The resulting destruction of the lake's biodiversity is a great shame. Brendan made it clear that the restoration of the lake is a very challenging process partly because there are many parties involved, including Horizons Regional Council, local iwi and the Levin City Council. Another difficulty is that the lake is also being filled by sediment from the surrounding area and in addition, the tributaries that fill the lake have been reduced in flow due to irrigation and other water uses.

It is a shame that we have ruined many of our lakes, but what is more saddening is that many of the processes that have contributed to this type of degradation are still happening and in some cases are accelerating. Based on the Ministry for the Environment's Trophic Level Index for Lakes, of the 134 monitored sites, one third have high nutrient levels or have poor water quality. Some places where people once went on holiday during their childhood such as lake Hakanoa near Huntly ( I believe the Lange family may have holidayed there when David and Peter were kids) are now degraded to hypertrophic levels and are completely unsuitable for any use by humans. While many restoration projects are going on all around the country we are still polluting at an increasing rate in many areas across New Zealand. If you want to change this situation please consider clicking this link to make a submission on the proposed ammendments to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management.

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