People have been taking to the rivers around the Tararua this year in bigger numbers and it's not just because of the sizzling temperatures - an improvement in water quality is being credited with helping to make our rivers and streams more recreational friendly.

"I've noticed more people are at our rivers this year, as the water quality has improved due to the fencing off of rivers by our dairy farmers and the work on wastewater ponds has cleaned up our section of the Manawatu River," Tararua District mayor Roly Ellis said.

 The clean, sparkling water of the Manawatu River has been attracting swimmers all summer.
The clean, sparkling water of the Manawatu River has been attracting swimmers all summer.

"The area at Ballance, around Ferry Reserve, has been well used, with plenty of people swimming and trout fishermen are reporting good catches, with the trout in good order. In fact, trout fishing in Tararua rivers this season has been exceptional. I would recommend everyone takes their fishing rod down to one of our rivers and catches dinner.

However, Mr Ellis said he found it exasperating when people kept bashing farmers and his council because of water quality in the Tararua.


"There has been a radical improvement in our waterways over the past five years," he said.

Mr Ellis said the Tararua District Council was working to sort out wastewater ponds in the district by removing sludge and lining the ponds. The work will be completed by the end of this year.

Dannevirke dairy farmer Russell Phillips acknowledged our rivers and streams have improved.

"The Manawatu River is cleaner than it was as dairy farmers have embraced their environment and are taking time and money to implement best practises," he told the Dannevirke News. "This has contributed to the improvement in water quality.

Some of the hundreds of people who have been swimming in the Manawatu River.
Some of the hundreds of people who have been swimming in the Manawatu River.

"Farmers are making the right investment, with proven results."

Maree Clark of Horizons Regional Council confirms monitoring has shown a meaningful improvement in E.coli levels at a number of sites across the catchment over the last 10 years. These include the Manawatu River at Weber Rd, the Manawatu River at Hopelands, the Mangapapa Stream at Troup Rd and the Manawatu River at Upper Gorge (Ferry Reserve), all areas in the Tararua.

And Mr Phillips said one Sunday in January 100 people were swimming in the Manawatu River at Ballance Bridge, at Ferry Reserve, further proof of the "swimability" of our river. But he warned that other farmers also needed to look after our environment, as well as dairy farmers.

Horizons' chief executive Michael McCartney said it was great to see people getting out and enjoying all the region had to offer over summer.

"Our region is home to plenty of great swimming spots, so when the conditions are right people should go for it. Equally, it's important for the community to know when or where it's not wise to use a river," he said.

Tracey Collis, a Tararua District councillor and Eketahuna dairy farmer said dairy farmers in the upper Manawatu catchment [in the Tararua] were working towards their Horizons One Plan consents which were to be implemented by January next year.

"I addressed the Upper Manawatu catchment meeting held in Woodville and in a catchment of 170 farms, 110 farmers attended the meetings spread over four venues. A further 17 have already started the process or have their consent granted. The collaborative approach between Horizons Regional Council, DairyNZ, Fonterra and associated industries is a recipe for success which I understand will be replicated in other regions," she said.

"Even in tough financial times, farmers are engaging in the process and working towards the catchment targets. The impression I received was that dairy farmers were putting genuine effort into improving and understanding nutrient loading in waterways."

At the end of 2015 Horizons had granted 90 nutrient management consents and a further 30 were in progress.

Dairy farmers pay between $3000 and $6000 for their consents, with annual monitoring and compliance costs on top of this including annual research charges attached to owning water permits and land discharge permits.

Mrs Collis said she was confident the Tararua District Council's wastewater upgrades and commitments to the Manawatu River Accord, alongside the farming contributions, would make a positive difference to water quality.

"To take it a step further, we need to understand everyone of us is able to make small changes individually and en masse will help us achieve better outcomes," she said.

And reports of bigger and better catches from the Manawatu River are not just fishermen's tales.

"The river, with what farmers and the council have done, has gone from being alleged to be the most polluted river in the western world to a pretty good river now," Dannevirke's Robert Castles said. "It's become a great place to fish."

- What the fishermen say will feature in a future edition of Dannevirke News.
Facts are clear:

* Horizons Regional Council reports on water quality at popular swimming spots between November 1 and April 30 each summer, with information available via the Safe Swim Spots section of

* The information is as up-to-date as possible. However, Horizons Regional Council spokesman for water quality Barry Gilliland said the best way to determine if a site is safe for swimming is to take a look.

* "If the water looks clear and it's a sunny day you should be good to go, but if the water looks murky after recent rain then we advise people wait until it clears before swimming."