We all know what the problems are and their formidable scale.

Many of our rivers, streams, lakes and estuaries are a mess and it's time to create the platforms that are required to fix them .

To be successful we will need to mobilise our entire community in this common cause.
It is clear many of our current farming practices are unsustainable and need to change, that our forest harvesting practices need to greatly improve and that our storm and waste water systems are often abysmal. To mention just a few.

It is also simply not acceptable to discharge raw sewage into any of our streams, rivers or estuaries. This practice is due to poor prioritising of capital, under-engineering and neglect and all this must stop.

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We can and we are going to do a whole lot better.

So let's start the process of fixing our mess together. Our children and grandchildren deserve better.

Global warming is upon us and the biggest threat to humanity that we have ever seen, challenging our very existence.

In the short term, it will cause havoc on our coastal communities and test our flood-control systems, urban and rural. We need to be ready, because that big storm at sea or in our hills will happen sometime soon.

But it's not good enough as a region to just react to the consequences of global warming. That is hard enough, but we also need to be at the forefront of remediation.

There is more than enough oil already stored in barrels to do some serious damage to our world and we certainly don't need to add to this volume by drilling for more in Hawke's Bay.

And if this isn't sufficient in itself, the additional risks to our water bodies is further reason to not welcome an oil or gas industry into HB.

I will strongly advocate and fight for our right to tino rangatiratanga (self determination) on this issue.

In fact we must go further. I want us to aim to be the first carbon-neutral province in NZ.

And that goal is well within our reach.

The Kahutia Accord which the Hawke's Bay Regional Council is being asked to approve will set us on that path.

Many of our problems with water stem from the fact that we have deforested our land faster than any other country in the history of the world. We need trees, trees and more trees.

Kahutia (a cloak of trees over the land) will be a partnership between the Ngati Kahungunu iwi and the council to begin the process of reforesting our eroding hill country.

And the great wonder in all this is that we can do it and get a commercial return on ours and the iwi's capital. It's nature's gift back to us.

Developing and enhancing existing nursery capability to create capacity will be our first step in this project.

We will need millions of trees propagated and will need help from our regional prison, every marae and every commercial operator.

We also need further action developing new wetlands and planting trees on the banks of our rivers and streams that feed our lakes and estuaries.

The social dividend from this investment is huge and we need to bring the community along on the journey.

We are able to leverage our balance sheet and get financial resources from central Government but we are also going to have to ask our ratepayers to dig even further into their pockets to support this endeavour.

This might cost the average householder a little bit more per week and the question that we all need to ask ourselves is whether we are investing enough, relative to the wealth we extract from our natural resources.

We have just completed a comprehensive review of our own capital structure and requirements and the draft report has been released to the community.

The report highlights our challenges to grow our port while reducing our risk and we need to resolve this challenge in consultation with our community.

I am also very hopeful that the huge work that has been done by all our local participants in TANK will result in a solution applauded by all parts of our community.

In anticipation of this I am proposing that we set up a Karamu Action Group as a subgroup of TANK. This would be made up of representatives of all the marae in the Karamu catchment, local government, environmentalists and commercial parties.

But we all need to be very clear that this group is about action; the time for talking is over.

Whilst the Karamu is one of our worst rivers, with focused attention we can fix it in a decade. This needs to be done stream by stream, drain by drain, septic tank by septic tank.

Our KPI will be to have clean water running through a network of wetlands and regional parks. Clean enough for the kids at Mangaroa, Paki Paki, Havelock, Whakatu and Clive to swim in.

Each of our hotspots - Lake Whatuma, the Tukituki, Ahuriri estuary, Lake Tutira, Whakaki estuary and the Wairoa River - need the same focus and attention and this council must support the respective councillor ambassadors to achieve results in their rohe.

We must encourage our farmers and businesses to invest in water storage that does not use the rest of the community as a "patsy banker" and does not plonk dams in the middle of a protected reserve or on the main stem of one of our rivers or prized streams.

We just need to be smarter about all this and ensure it is commercial and driven by the users, not bureaucrats.

So spread out and advance as they have done at Cape to City. As they have done in Whangawehi, as they have done at Maraetotara.

Kahutia will do the grunty stuff in the hills, but the council needs to continue to partner with our farmers and private community endeavours.

And on top of this we want to encourage everyone in Hawke's Bay to get involved and commit to planting at least five trees a year.

Together we can make Hawke's Bay the best place in the world to live and work and that is what we are going to do.

We need to greatly enhance and protect our environment so that it supports a dynamic and prosperous economy and is an envied destination.

Rex Graham is chair of the Hawke's Bay Regional Council. This is an edited version of his chairman's report he delivered at yesterday's council meeting. Views expressed here are the writer's opinion and not the newspaper's. Email: editor@hbtoday.co.nz