The funds have run dry for projects to improve freshwater quality in the Whanganui-Manawatu region.

Horizons Regional Council funding has failed to keep up with demand as an explosion of work and interest in improving water quality has made it a victim of its own success.

Horizons subsidises landowners and groups working to improve water, usually contributing half or more of the cost of projects.

But for the next little while Horizons won't have spare cash to subsidise improvements.

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What's left in the kitty is already allocated, and most of its focus will be on problem areas such as the Manawatū River, and the state of Lake Waipu, near Turakina, and Lake Horowhenua, near Levin.

People outside the Manawatū and Whangaehu catchments may have to wait until July 2019 to fund them.

The regional council has applied for $5.23 million over the next three to five years from the Government's Freshwater Improvement Fund. That money is earmarked for work with local authorities and other bodies on projects at Ratana/Lake Waipu, Lake Horowhenua, and the Whangaehu and Manawatū rivers.

And Horizons' long-term plan proposes making just $160,000 available for fencing and stream planting in other parts of the region. But projects that cost more than that are waiting in the wings.

"This year we have far more work than we would have anticipated," Horizons natural resources and partnerships manager Dr Jon Roygard said.

The Freshwater Improvement Fund projects are considered more important than fencing and planting in other places.

One of them would help little Lake Waipu which received treated effluent from Ratana Pā and was in "relatively poor condition", Roygard said. That project begins in July and must find suitable land to take the effluent, removing it from the lake.

After that, Horizons will want to know what other remediation can be done for Waipu, a coastal dune lake, like Pauri, Dudding and Wiritoa.

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"We are trying to get some understanding from Niwa [National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research] about how to make these usable more often," Roygard said.

He said improving water quality had been big news and that might have prompted the surge of interest, with people copying their neighbours and wanting to "do their bit".

There had been some good progress in the Horizons region, he said. The level of bacteria and sediment in the Whangaehu River had improved after 1000 kilometres of fencing, the planting of 1 million trees and the ending of two major discharges.

Whanganui regional councillor Nicola Patrick is hoping ratepayers will ask the council to rate more to spend on improving water quality.

"A lot of people say 'Don't just throw money at a problem', but sometimes money helps — and qualified good staff and advisers."

The council advertises the grants in rural areas, and its five-member freshwater team is busy. Patrick described the team as efficient, hardworking and customer-focused.

"I get regular positive feedback about how great they are."

Water quality getting better, says survey

A 10-year survey of water quality trends has found more of New Zealand's rivers are improving than deteriorating.

The survey of the 10 years to 2016 was conducted by the Cawthron Institute's Dr Roger Young, who hoped it was a turning point in the country's river health.

One improvement was that nitrogen was reducing in more sites than it was increasing.

The survey looked at the trend in water quality, rather than the state of water. It found some sites were still deteriorating in every measurement, and continued effort was needed.