August 31, 2018

Getting behind New Zealand’s waterway restoration movement

This week is World Water Week and 3,000 decision-makers, scientists and experts from over 130 countries are converging on Stockholm, Sweden to develop plans to preserve this precious natural resource. 

In New Zealand, the health of our waterways is receiving similar levels of attention. Our streams, lakes, wetlands and rivers have suffered over the last 150 years because of the effects of rural and urban development. While efforts to improve freshwater have mainly focussed on limit setting and development rules, we’re now seeing a rapidly growing grass-roots movement driving waterway restoration initiatives. These community efforts have developed because New Zealanders know the task of reversing the impacts is too big for a single owner or sector, so working together is the only way forward.

At Fonterra, we recognise that dairy has been part of the problem and we are committed to getting behind this restoration movement. We know that collaboration and involving the community are crucial to success. So, building on the success of DOC and Fonterra’s Living Water Partnership in five catchments, in July 2017 Fonterra announced an ambitious goal to help restore 50 catchments throughout New Zealand. We have spent the past year taking advice from local and national stakeholders about where we could help, and we are now finalising the catchments and starting to focus on how to support local farmers and communities to achieve their environmental aspirations.

There’s not a one size fits all to restoring our waterways, every catchment and community is unique. To recognise this, our support will vary depending on the needs of the people and the catchment. It could, for example, include accelerating the development of farm environment plans to reduce contaminants entering waterways, a wastewater upgrade at a Fonterra processing site, our scientists supporting ‘citizen scientists’ to monitor waterway quality, providing advice and support to catchment care groups, giving funding for restoration projects, rallying volunteers from our local factories or Farm Source teams, or sitting at the table and talking about the hard issues.

Both rural and urban catchments are included in the programme, because that is where we have been asked to help. Communities and iwi have given us strong direction and said we should focus on restoring water quality for recreation and ecosystem health for our native fish and wildlife, enhancing wetlands, accelerating riparian planting, and restoring mahinga kai and culturally significant areas. These things will be part of agreed local action plans.

The programme is a new way of working for Fonterra, it’s about having a restorative mindset for New Zealand. We are all excited about supporting community action in these 50 catchments and getting behind New Zealand’s grass-roots restoration movement.

We know this restoration effort is only part of tackling the problem, and it may take longer than some of us would like, but we’re committed to playing our part to make things right, and are looking forward to working with others on the challenge.

Trish Kirkland-Smith is Fonterra’s General Manager, Environment.

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