A wananga - the first step in restoring the Utuhina Stream to its former state - was well-attended by the local community, with spokeswoman Lani Kereopa saying the situation has reached crisis point.
An Ohinemutu resident, Ms Kereopa said the aim of the wananga, held this morning, was to improve the water quality of the stream.
"We want our food sources back, and our children can't swim in the stream, we've reached crisis point. The river is part of our culture here in the village."
Ms Kereopa said around 80 people attended the morning's clean up.
People met at the Te Kuirau Marae in Ohinemutu for a karakia and health and safety talk.
The attendees were then split into four teams and given different areas to pick up rubbish from the banks of the stream.
"It was wonderful . . . we cleaned the whole Ohinemutu water boundary."
She said the event brought the community together and the number of people who attended made her want to cry.
"It's so heart-warming to see families come out and say 'I care'. My children have never seen koura or eels [in the stream], it's important they understand what we have lost and what we are fighting to get back."
Ms Kereopa said over the last two summers the river had been deemed unsafe for swimming.
Bags of collected rubbish, of which the Rotorua Daily Post counted at least 17, were to be picked up by the Rotorua Lakes Council.
The wananga was organised by a group of Koutu and Ohinemutu residents, with support from Te Arawa Lakes Trust and funding from Ngati Whakaue Assets Trust.
Ms Kereopa said the council had supported the wananga by providing rubbish bags and gloves, and koha towards the kai.
She said today Sunday was the first of three wananga to be held with the goal of the Ohinemutu and Koutu communities taking responsibility for the section of the stream.
"We want to replant the bank, and deal with the main sources of pollution."
She said schools such as John Paul College and Westbrook School had been proactive in taking care and cleaning their boundaries.
The other two dates would be organised this afternoon Sunday for when it suited the community, Ms Kereopa said.
Following the clean up, those who took part gathered to share memories and stories of the stream, some of which were filmed by the organisers.
One of the co-ordinators, Rawiri Bhana, said it was an "awesome" turn out.
He spoke to those attending about the importance of filming themselves speaking about their connections to the stream.
"We're collecting our stories, recording our stories, so we have evidence of why we should receive funding."