River goal to become reality

Royal spoonbills taking flight near Papahikahawai Island in the Maketu Estuary.

Construction works to restore freshwater flows into the dying Maketu Estuary will begin by this September following Bay of Plenty regional councilors awarding the tender for the Kaituna River re-diversion job.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council chairman Doug Leeder says tangata whenua and local residents have been calling for river flows to be restored to the estuary since 1979 – and now the final hurdle in restoring the dying Maketu Estuary – also known as Te Awa o Ngatoroirangi – has been overcome.

“The health of the estuary has been declining since the river mouth was diverted away from it in 1956. “We listened to the concerns of the community and started consultation on a preferred option in 2013. “We’re now ready to start physical works,” says Doug.

The tender for Kaituna River re-diversion construction works has been awarded to J Swap Contractors Limited and the work will take about two years to complete.

The project will cost $13.5m and involves creation of a new channel to carry freshwater from the river into a new inlet structure at Ford’s Cut.

Existing stopbanks will be shifted and upgraded, the Ford Rd boat ramp will be improved, and 20 hectares of new wetlands will be created on low-lying land that has been retired from grazing.

According to the BOPRC, due to loss of natural flushing from Kaituna River since 1956, the Maketu Estuary has become clogged with undesirable algae, and coastal sediment build-up has reduced both pipi habitat and the ability for boats to enter and leave the harbour.

In addition, 95 per cent of estuarine wetland habitat has been lost as a result of land drainage and development. 

The council states the re-diversion project will return an average of 600,000m3 of fresh water from the Kaituna River into Te Awa o Ngatoroirangi /Maketu Estuary on every tidal cycle.

All of the resource consents and conditions for the project were finalised in an Environment Court decision issued in May 2016. And 45 hectares of pastoral land adjacent to the river has been acquired by BOPORC to implement the project. That land will become public reserve land that can be enjoyed for walking, cycling or kaimoana (seafood) gathering access, once construction work is complete.

The regional council began complementary preparatory works last year, including: opening of the Papahikahawai Channel and construction of an access bridge; re-contouring and planting on Papahikahawai Island; and creation of additional wetlands in the upstream Lower Kaituna Wildlife Management Reserve (Te Pourepo o Kaituna wetland creation project), which will also provide a sand source for new stop banks associated with the re-diversion.

BOPRC’s Kaituna catchments manager Pim de Monchy says the overall goal of the project is to restore up to 20 per cent of the Kaituna River’s freshwater flows into the estuary, so the mauri – or life-force – of the estuary is restored and it becomes healthier for wildlife to live in and people to enjoy.

“We’ll be doing that in a way that maximises the environmental and cultural benefits, while maintaining existing levels of flood protection and boating access.”

Pim says BOPRC considered 18 different methods and options for re-diverting the Kaituna River and creating new wetlands before making a final decision.

“All the options were considered and assessed by a range of engineering, hydrology, ecology, and planning experts, alongside feedback from iwi and the community.

“We’ve already done a huge amount of work to get all the necessary resource consents and land acquisitions in place, and source a contractor.

“It’s really exciting to now start turning all our plans and preparation into action on the ground,” says Pim.

J Swap Contractors Ltd manager Shanan Mowatt says his company’s directors are thrilled to be awarded the contract.

“We’re looking forward to helping restore the Kaituna River and Maketu Estuary over the next two years, together with regional council and the local community,” says Shanan.

Meetings with tangata whenua, stakeholders and the wider community will be scheduled by regional council staff in the coming month, to introduce the contractors and outline the process and timeframes for the work before it starts.

People can subscribe to receive email updates or see further information about the project at www.boprc.govt.nz/kaitunamaketurediversion.


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