The vast catchment that flows through much of Northland and into the Kaipara Harbour will be the first in New Zealand to tap into the Government's new $12 million clean waterways fund.

The announcement this morning by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Environment minister David Parker was made at the Booth Family's Titoki farm which sits alongside the Mangakahia River, close to the boundaries of the three Northland districts, Kaipara, Whangārei and Far North.

Rivers with headwaters in the Waipoua Forest, wetlands just south of Kaikohe, the huge Hikurangi Swamp and as far south to north Auckland feed into the Kaipara Harbour, which is the largest estuarine environment in New Zealand.

The recognition of that complex and fragile system has been welcomed by freshwater quality campaigners and groups already working to clean up the water going into the Kaipara Harbour.

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Environment Minister David Parker, centre, flanked by Dover Samuels and Labour MP Willow Jean Prime.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Environment Minister David Parker, centre, flanked by Dover Samuels and Labour MP Willow Jean Prime.

Among those at the launch of the well-water programme were Millan Ruka from Environmental River Patrol and Willie Wright, from Te Uri o Hau and the chair of the Integrated Kaipara Harbour Management Group (IKHMG).

''It's great to see all our mahi (work) come this far and have this kind of backing,'' Ruka said.

He said the processes were still being decided but it would be interesting to see which projects and through which means the Government support would be made.

Ruka has been a leading advocate of cleaning up the waterway network and last year was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) for his work monitoring and reporting the catchment's riparian health. He is a member of Kahui Wai Māori, the Government's Māori freshwater advisory group.

Wright said that as well as recognising the need for more Government support, the announcement celebrated community will and efforts to date.

Former Tai Tokerau MP and Northland Regional Council member Dover Samuels, also on Kahui Wai Māori, said the group had been ''inspired by David Parker supporting a Māori perspective in caring for our taonga''.

Around 100 landowners, hapu members, local government representatives, conservation leaders and other interested parties were at the event, the last act of which was Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, accompanied by around 15 children, planting a tree on the nearby riverbank.

Andrew Booth, standing, tells the audience about water quality initiatives on his family's Titoki farm.
Andrew Booth, standing, tells the audience about water quality initiatives on his family's Titoki farm.

"Every New Zealander should be able to swim in their river without getting sick. Sadly, half of our monitored swimming sites are not safe for swimming,'' she said.

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"Today, we are focusing on cleaning up the Kaipara, the largest estuary in New Zealand, showing how it will be done – a unified effort led by the community, with Government support.''

At this stage no figure has been put on how much of the $12m fund will go to the Kaipara initiatives.

Among problems identified in the large catchment, and which iwi and other communities initiatives have tackled over several years, are run-off, erosion, sedimentation, cattle getting into unfenced riparian areas, weeds, loss of wetlands, loss of eel nurseries and other kai moana environments.

Parker said the clean water initiative, first flagged in the 2019 Wellbeing Budget, recognised the value of community partnerships. The combined work of the IKHMG and other community groups was ''exemplary'', he said.

"Volunteers, iwi, local government, farmers and school students are all working together to improve the quality of the water flowing into the Kaipara Harbour."

The Government would work with those groups to help understand what interventions to take, such as where to build and restore wetlands, or where more hillside planting is required to stabilise steep land, he said.

Parker said issues such as water take and allocation would not be included the programme.

Northland Regional Council land manager Duncan Kervell said sedimentation was a major problem on the region's hilly, muddy and poor-soil country.

''We need to turn that sediment tap off. We need to help farmers protect their hill country. we need to help them keep stock out of the rivers, and to plant riverbanks.''

Kervell described the NRC's proposed ''wraparound'' service which would be informed by individual Farm Environment Plans (EFP). Action plans needed to ensure water quality protection programmes were compatible with good economic outcomes for landowners, he said.