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Published: 2014-07-21 00:00:00

A key stakeholder group working on ways to protect the Waikato and Waipa rivers is taking a multi-faceted approach to gathering information about the right path forward.

The 25-strong Collaborative Stakeholder Group (CSG) is part of the Healthy Rivers: Plan for Change/Wai Ora: He Rautaki Whakapaipai project involving Waikato and Waipa river iwi and Waikato Regional Council.

Made up of representatives from a wide range of interests, the CSG is due to make a recommendation on a change to the regional plan to better protect the health of the Waikato and Waipa rivers.

CSG activities this month have involved a visit to a tree planting programme designed to help restore the Waipa River’s health. This has involved the local community, the regional council and Maniapoto Māori Trust Board securing Waikato River Authority funds to fence 5.5 kilometres of riverbank and plant more than 10,000 trees over three years.

At a workshop hosted by the board and Ngati Kinohaku, the CSG also heard about the “deep cultural significance” the Waipa River had for Maniapoto. “It is a taonga, and respect for it lies at the heart of our spiritual and physical wellbeing, our tribal identity and culture,” said board senior policy analyst Ben Ormsby.

“We also rely on the Waipa for our livelihoods. Maniapoto are farmers, foresters, tourism operators, business owners and entrepreneurs,” Mr Ormsby added.

The CSG is to hold a forum for 300 invited stakeholders in October to discuss the principles the group should use when deciding between policy options for the proposed regional plan change.

From March next year, public feedback will be sought on various options to provide key input into the plan drafting process. “We hope then to be at a point where people can get an idea of how the various possible options we’ve come up with could affect them,” said CSG chairperson Bill Wasley.

In the meantime, the CSG has come up with a draft “focus statement” on the issues it is looking to address. This will be discussed with October’s stakeholder forum and the wider public next year. The draft CSG focus statement reads: “To come up with limits, timelines and practical options for managing contaminants and discharges into the Waikato and Waipa catchments to ensure our rivers and lakes are safe to swim in and take food from, support healthy biodiversity and provide for social, economic and cultural wellbeing.”