South Taranaki iwi Nga Rauru is starting a long-awaited programme to return seven treasured stretches of waterway to health.

Te Wai Koiora was launched at Te Aroha Marae in Kai Iwi on Thursday morning. The name means "pristine waters".

The programme has funding of $376,000 from the $5 million Te Mana o Te Wai fund set up by the National-led government in partnership with the Maori Party.

Maori Party MP Marama Fox, speaking at the launch, said the fund was gained through former co-leader Dame Tariana Turia's "steely determination".


The waterways are the Kai Iwi, Ototoka and Okehu streams, Tapuarau Lagoon at the coast, the Whenuakura River and two stretches of the Waitotara River.

The programme will fence 8km of waterway, clear weeds and waste, open channels and plant banks with native vegetation. It will also manage pests, maintain the plantings and monitor the waterways' health.

The tribe is experienced with native vegetation.

For 13 years it has been growing native plants at Wai o Turi Marae, near Patea. Every year 40,000 plants are sold to farmers and Taranaki Regional Council, and staff spend about four months a year planting them.

Ms Fox said she was proud to be Maori on that day.

There was debate in New Zealand about whether fresh water should be swimmable or wadeable, but she wanted more.

"Actually we want to make it drinkable, and take our kai from there."

Nga Rauru kaiwhakahaere Anne-Marie Broughton said humans had damaged waterways by felling forests, draining wetlands, removing bank vegetation, adding fertiliser and animal effluent and taking unsustainable amounts of water.

"Our rivers are no longer teeming with kai.

"We are scared to let our mokopuna go swimming.

"We have problems, but we have solutions too."

Horizons and Taranaki regional councils are expected to help with the restoration, as is the Conservation Department, and the iwi will provide costs, materials and volunteer labour.

"This is not the task of one person alone. It's the task of many," Ms Broughton said.

There were about 80 people at the launch Wikatana Popata, from Kaitaia, praised the initiative.

"There should be more of this.

"This is a good kaupapa, giving back to Papatuanuku and getting our kids aware of the spiritual side of the river as well," he said.

Also present were children from Ngamatapouri and Kai Iwi schools, who took part in workshops after the food and speeches were done.