Managing rivers - a joint effort
By Wairarapa Councillor Gary McPhee
Who manages the rivers?
You might ask yourself who looks after the rivers in Wairarapa? At first glance it looks like people on bulldozers and diggers taking instructions from people in high-vis vests.
And if you look a bit further you might find some river engineers in the Greater Wellington building in Masterton poring over plans and maps trying to work out how to keep rivers inside their stopbanks.
What most of us don’t see are the dozens of people from Mount Bruce to Lake Ferry who work together to share their views with Greater Wellington on the best way to manage rivers. Many of them are riverside landowners, but there are people representing iwi, Fish and Game, Forest and Bird, Department of Conservation and district councils.
There are groups of people advising Greater Wellington (called river scheme advisory committees) for each of the rivers that start in the Tararua Ranges – Upper Ruamahanga, Waipoua, Waingawa, Waiohine and the complicated system of floodways and lakes in the Lower Ruamahanga River.
Why are the rivers managed?
It’s pretty simple, the Wairarapa Valley is very flood prone and we live, work and travel all over it. For generations we have built homes, farms and businesses within reach of the rivers and built stopbanks to protect them.
If the rivers were left to their own devices they would start eroding the stopbanks and bridges and spill out on the plains. Not a good prospect for those living within reach of floodwaters or for anyone getting about in the valley if our bridges collapse.
How do we manage the rivers?
It’s usually obvious which stopbanks, roads and bridges are threatened by a river, and there are often several options for repair. River engineers come up with solutions such as rock groynes, planting riverbanks to strengthen them or moving the river channel away from a problem area with a bulldozer. The hard part is looking into the future so that we can be sure what we do now can handle the changes nature might throw at us.
There’s lots of other things to consider – iwi values, fish, birds that nest on the gravel, fishers, swimmers, which bits of river get worked on and in what order.
This is where the river scheme advisory committees come into play. Iwi, environmental experts and riverside landowners give advice on plans and feedback on work that has been completed.
In autumn each river scheme gets together for a river inspection and a meeting to discuss future work.
The Wairarapa river budget for 2011/12 is $3.3 million. Just over half comes from Wairarapa, with the remainder coming from the rest of the region.
If you benefit from a river scheme, meaning your property is less likely to flood because of the river work, then you pay a “river rate”. Fifty percent of the money spent on Wairarapa rivers comes from people who pay the river rates, and the district councils.
The other half comes from Greater Wellington’s “general rate”, which is everyone who pays rates across the region – from Wairarapa, Upper Hutt, Lower Hutt, Wellington, Porirua and Kapiti Coast.
This contribution recognises the value farming in Wairarapa brings to the regional economy and the value of the rivers as a whole to the region.
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