Its strong sense of purpose and direction as well as clearly outlined objectives and values and its regular reviews have earned the Manawatū River Leaders Forum the 2021 Supreme Award for Catchment With Most Progress Toward Improved River Health from Cawthron New Zealand.
The judges commended the Manawatū River Leaders Forum for working to include a wide range of stakeholders in the community and for building strong relationships with iwi and hapu groups.
Established in 2010, the forum has 34 key stakeholder groups, including councils, industry and iwi who want to make the Manawatū River Leaders Accord work.
The Manawatū catchment is about 5900 km2 and varies considerably along its 9700km length depending on its geography and land use.
It flows through many townships such as Norsewood, Eketāhuna, Pahiatua, Dannevirke, Woodville, Feilding, Palmerston North and Foxton. Tangata whenua include Rangitāne Tamaki nui a Rua, Rangitāne o Manawatū, Ngāti Kahungunu, Raukawa, Kauwhata and Muaūpoko with about 25 hapū.
Land use in the catchment is predominately agricultural with about half of the catchment used for sheep and beef farming (47 per cent), and 600 dairy farms (20 per cent). Forestry covers about 2 per cent, native cover 17 per cent and 'other' 15 per cent.
There are 23 species of fish in the Manawatū catchment (both native and introduced). The Manawatū Estuary is one of New Zealand's few Ramsar sites.
Although there are many contributing factors, treated town sewage discharges and farm runoff – mainly nitrogen – were identified as the major causes of degradation in the Manawatū River.
Manawatū River Leaders' Forum co-chair and Tanenuiarangi Manawatū Incorporated chief executive Danielle Harris says the Supreme Award for Catchment with Most Progress Toward Improved River Health recognises not only interventions in the river but the collective mahi undertaken on the ground.
"When the accord was signed in 2010, not all partners agreed on what needed to be done to help improve the Manawatū River," says Ms Harris.
"As a result, one of the biggest challenges to begin with was figuring out how we could all work together to achieve our common goal, which was to improve the health and mana of the awa.
"Today's award recognises the significant body of work undertaken by accord partners, such as iwi and hapū, local government, environmental groups, community groups, industry and landowners, over the past decade.
"Accord members firmly believe that by working together we can achieve more than working alone, for the benefit of all. We are all kaitiaki (guardians) of the river, so if we step up and protect our taonga, its mauri (lifeforce) will return and thrive for future mātātahi (generations).
"We are now a whole of catchment community working towards a shared vision - kei te ora te wai, kei te ora te whenua, kei te ora te tangata - if the water is healthy, the land and the people are nourished."
Ms Harris says in 2016 iwi leaders from the catchment were successful in securing a $534,000 Te Mana o Te Wai grant towards Tū Te Manawa.
"This iwi-led project coordinated and supported efforts to share histories and stories of the awa with the community while enhancing and protecting sites of significance," says Ms Harris.
"The accord's achievements have been a herculean effort and very much worth celebrating as dollars can place no value on all the mahi and results we are experiencing and seeing."
Manawatū River Leaders' Forum co-chair and Horizons Regional Council chair Rachel Keedwell says collectively, the forum has produced two action plans representing stakeholders' commitments.
"The forum has also secured government co-funding for multi-organisational implementation projects. This includes a successful $5.2 million bid to central government's Fresh Start for Fresh Water Clean-Up Fund and $2.9 million from the Freshwater Improvement Fund," says Keedwell.
"In conjunction with central government funding, over $66 million has been invested by the catchment's regional, city and district councils, and landowners through accord initiatives.
"This includes significant wastewater infrastructure upgrades (including moving to land treatment), more than five million trees being planted, 1000km of stream fencing erected, 68 fish passage barriers removed, and 270 environmental farm plans and over 70 community projects completed.
"Horizons also recently secured $4.6 million Jobs for Nature funding to accelerate their existing stream fencing and riparian planting programme. The $10,000 from today's Supreme Award will supplement this work in the Manawatū Catchment."