The Government has piped $2 million into a $4 million programme to improve freshwater quality in the Northern Wairoa River and many Northland dune lakes.

Northland's share of the $44 million Environment's Freshwater Improvement Fund grants for more than 100 lakes and rivers across New Zealand was announced by Environment Minister Nick Smith yesterday .

Northland Regional Council (NRC) chairman Bill Shepherd said the grants will be added to by more than $1.5m of ratepayers' contribution to the already planned projects.

The Northern Wairoa River project will get $1.25m and the dune lake work $782,975.

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The river initiative, which will have $2.5m spent on it over the next five years, is designed to reduce sediment and bacteria levels in the Northern Wairoa and tributaries.

The Northland Dune Lakes Strategic Water Quality Improvement project will get $1.6m to improve more than two dozen fragile dune lakes in the Aupouri and Pouto areas.

The government also announced it would contribute more than $480,000 towards two iwi-led projects in Northland: Waimahae Marae-Nga Wai Maori o Waimahae and Te Roroa Centre of Excellence for Restoration of the Waipoua River.

Mr Shepherd said the council applied to the Freshwater Improvement Fund earlier this year.

The work the NRC had done so far demonstrated iwi, landowner and cross-council cooperation.

"It's fantastic to see central government also 'coming to the party'," he said.

"Projects for these lakes include modelling and initiatives to reduce nutrient levels and work to remove and control pest fish and water weeds.

"However, the value of the work the landowners involved will be contributing over the lives of these two projects is also substantial and should be publicly recognised and applauded."

It included fencing waterways, stock water reticulation, riparian planting, erosion control, afforestation, land retirement, constructing wetlands or storm water retention.

Freshwater advocate Millan Ruka, from Environment River Patrol Aotearoa, said he hoped the river project would concentrate on the upper catchments of the Northern Wairoa, which included the Mangakahia River, the 'Hikurangi Swamp' and the Wairua River.

"They've got to work on getting cattle off the river," Mr Ruka said.

He said a patrol in the Wairua River/Hikurangi Swamp network on July 25 revealed riverbank degradation caused by dairy herds with unfenced access to streams.

He reported a dead cow half-submerged on the side of the Wairua River, which the NRC followed up and issued an infringement notice to a farmer.

The Mangakahia and its tributaries were badly affected by sediment and slash from pine forest harvesting as well as intensive upstream dairying, Mr Ruka said.

The Government has committed $100 million to the nationwide fund over 10 years for large projects in vulnerable catchments that are showing signs of stress, but which have not yet reached 'tipping point'.