The Whangarei man whose quiet words have driven a campaign to improve the quality of fresh waterways has been named Te Reo mo te Awa (Voice of the River) in the New Zealand River Awards.
Millan Ruka, the founder of Environment River Patrol - Aotearoa, received the recognition at the 2016 awards, which were inaugurated in 2013 by NZ Rivers Trust and the Morgan Foundation.
He is only the second recipient of the Voice of the River award. Last year's inaugural award went to fresh water ecologist and Massey University lecturer Dr Mike Joy.
"I'm very pleased to receive my award for Voice of the River. Mind you, some might say I am the "mouth" of the river, but that's okay by me," Mr Ruka said.
"It is very important not to add stress to our hard working farming community as theirs is not an easy job and I try to ensure compassion and respect be an integral element of my river reports.
"Farming is still the back-bone of our economy and we need to give assistance to get this change over to best practice farming that ensures sustainability for our waterways."
For several years, Mr Ruka has voluntarily patrolled Northland waterways. His reports to Northland Regional Council and other authorities have included hundreds of examples of stock grazing river banks, the subsequent degradation of the banks and water quality, and animal carcasses in waterways.
He has worked with and made many submissions to central and local government, environmental authorities, the farming industry and iwi regarding the Fonterra Dairy Accord on water quality, the Hikurangi swamp drainage system, the translocation of elvers to traditional but endangered eel habitats, and more.
"The problem is more of a political one, I feel, and rules and regulations have obviously not been effective, nor have the local government departments demonstrated a will to effectively make a difference," he said.
"So Environment River Patrol-Aotearoa is more about changing government policy to improve our waterways and that is all about the water monitoring to gain evidence of what is seen on our vast waterways, big and small, that for the most feed into our many harbours."
NRC also won a gong this year, with Waipapa River named the most improved in Northland.
"It's great to see our Northland Regional Council receive an award also, for their efforts on the Waipapa River up in Kerikeri," Mr Ruka said.
NRC chairman Bill Shepherd said a great deal of effort in recent years had gone to protecting and enhancing the region's fresh water resources by a wide range of people and organisations.