The 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.

Lessons learned there from work yet to be done but mainly from what has already been achieved will then be passed on to other catchments.

The announcement yesterday 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.

The recognition of the complex, fragile and in need of repair system which drains much of Northland and north Auckland has been welcomed by campaigners and groups already working to clean up the waterways flowing into the harbour.

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Among those present were Millan Ruka from Environmental River Patrol and Willie Wright, of Te Uri o Hau Trust and chairman of the Integrated Kaipara Harbour Management Group (IKHMG).

Wright said it was heartening to have the central Government commitment to the Kaipara clean-up and its future protection. He described the occasion as a celebration of various communities' and groups' work and commitment to date.

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

He said it was probably still to decided what processes would come next, and to which projects or through which means the Government support would be made.

Ruka is a member of Kahui Wai Māori, the Government's Māori freshwater advisory group, 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.

A fellow member of that group, Dover Samuels praised Parker's commitment to supporting a Māori perspective on the taonga (precious resource).

Parker said the Essential Freshwater plan, first flagged in the 2019 Wellbeing Budget, recognised the value of community partnerships.

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

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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.

The lessons from "exemplar" catchments like Kaipara would be passed on to others, he said. Other catchments to benefit from the $12m fund would be announced over coming months.

Jacinda Ardern listens carefully, centre left. Behind her is Willow Jean Prime and to the Prime Minister's right are David Parker and Dover Samuels.
Jacinda Ardern listens carefully, centre left. Behind her is Willow Jean Prime and to the Prime Minister's right are David Parker and Dover Samuels.

Around 100 landowners, hapu members, local government representatives, conservation leaders and other interested parties were at the event. While many wore characteristically Northland gumboots and rain gear, the sun shone on the occasion at the now third generation Booth farm.

The good-news mood was shared by dozens of small children wearing high-viz vests, spurring the Prime Minister to say that while the clean-waters initiative would show immediate benefits. ''It's really for our children and future generations.''

Accompanied by around 15 children, her last act of the event was to plant a tree on the nearby riverbank.

"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 earlier told the crowd.

No figure has yet been put on how much of the $12m fund will go to Kaipara's community or local government initiatives or, for example, how much will go to landowners to fence off and plant riparian zones and manage run-off and erosion issues.

But further measures in the Essential Freshwater plan will set stronger direction for councils, address land use such as poor winter grazing practices and provide guidance on preserving resources such as remaining wetlands and streams.

Northland Regional Council land manager Duncan Kervell said sedimentation was a major problem.

''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 a ''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.