Waikato Regional Council is urging landowners to seek advice before undertaking any works in waterways.
It follows the council launching a new investigation into a complaint of unlawful and damaging works in the bed of a stream at Cambridge.
“In the last year the council has received a number of complaints about in-stream works, four of which have been serious enough to warrant formal investigation, with two of those resulting in prosecution for the parties involved,” said council investigations manager Patrick Lynch.
“The latest complaint arises from activities in and around a tributary of the Waikato River.
“Unlawful works can result in significant damage to the streams and rivers involved, adversely affecting bank stability, water quality and aquatic life.
“We will look into the circumstances of this most recent complaint, including who may be responsible, and take enforcement action if appropriate.”
Mr Lynch said land owners should seek advice from Waikato Regional Council on 0800 800 401 before undertaking any works in, on or around watercourses on their properties.
“Liability for unlawful in-stream works can extend to earthworks contractors as well as property owners and managers. Prosecutions are taken under the Resource Management Act and can result in hefty fines as well as criminal convictions. Less serious instances may result in infringement notices of up to $750 being issued.”
Mr Lynch noted that what many landowners refer to as “drains” on their properties are actually streams that have been modified, straightened, and channelised over the years. Despite their appearance, these modified streams are an important part of the overall stream and river ecosystem.
“The smaller streams are the habitat for adult fish whose juveniles are caught as whitebait, and for eels. All streams are extremely sensitive to major disturbances such as diggers doing in-stream works. Part of the reason for the decline in the region’s whitebait and eel resources is a result of the habitat destruction caused by these types of works.”
Streams include artificial or modified watercourses that may have been re-aligned historically, but which have a natural upstream channel.