Saturday, December 2, 2023

Waikato council and iwi work on better response plan for wetland

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Avian botulism outbreak prompts latest approach to planning.
The Waikato Regional Council is working with iwi and environmental groups to create a better response plan the next time there is a botulism outbreak in the Whangamarino Wetland and the lower Waikato catchment. Photo: Department of Conservation
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The Waikato Regional Council aims to better co-ordinate its response to major environmental issues after it met with iwi, Fish & Game and the Department of Conservation.

The meeting at the council’s headquarters in Hamilton followed the outbreak of avian botulism at the Whangamarino Wetland and the lower Waikato catchment in January. It is hoped that the council and these groups will be better prepared when future events occur, Waikato Regional Council science manager Mike Scarsbrook said.

The plan will be heavily based on a similar plan created after a drought in 2020 in the Hauraki Plains caused another outbreak of avian botulism that led to fish deaths.

The council will use technology such sensors to monitor waterways around the catchment that will be used as action trigger points by different agencies.

It will provide them with early warnings that the wetland or one of the other waterways in the catchment could be heading towards another botulism outbreak, he said.

“It’s a bit like what we would do with a disaster response – a highly co-ordinated response plan in place before these disasters happen. For Hauraki and now for Whangamarino in particular, we want to put a similar response plan in place.

“Unfortunately, these events will happen again and we want to try and reduce the impact of it.”

The meeting did not include discussions around the management of the wetland and wider catchment or the role landowners could play, nor Plan Change 1, which Scarsbrook said is a medium- to long-term response to improving water quality within the catchment.

Landowners were not present. This is because the meeting was for those groups that have statutory responsibilities during events such as a botulism outbreak and have the resources to respond Scarsbrook said. 

Having Waikato-Tainui and other iwi involved is a reflection of the council’s partnership with iwi. The council plans to meet with landowners in the catchment over the next few months to get their perspective, he said.

“The way I see it working is that a small group of staff from those agencies will work together is drafting a response, which we will then seek feedback on with the idea that the response plan be well in place before next summer.”

It is not within the response plan’s scope to deal with the catchment’s water quality issues. Scarsbrook said the water quality issues with the catchment are complex – with land use, flood protection and drainage assets all impacting it in some way.

“It’s not as simple as what some people like to make out.”

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