New technology, nature's wisdom, and a willingness to get things done means the waterways of Te Hoiere/Pelorus Catchment are on a path to cleaner, clearer water.
That's good news for all of us, according to the Marlborough District Council which is collaborating with DOC, local Iwi (Ngāti Kuia), farmers, scientists and businesses to develop practical solutions for landowners across the country to improve water quality.
"To be fair, farmers have been working hard in this catchment since about 2004 on water quality. They're the ones who requested that the council do in-depth water quality testing so they have good information," says Matt Oliver, Environmental Scientist for the council.
In addition, the council also asked about 400 landowners to map streams on their properties with the help of local company Geoinsight – whose geospatial analysis provides high quality, real time data on land and water conditions.
"The Geographic Information System, combined with the detailed water quality results, means we have powerful tools to target specific areas where there are problems and target funding to fix problems accordingly," Oliver says.
"It helps us allocate our funding and helps farmers understand what's happening on their farms, why it might be happening and what can be done to fix problems."
He said farmers in Te Hoiere catchment – including dairy farmers – are highly engaged in finding solutions, with a participation rate of up to 95 per cent in the stream mapping.
"The enthusiasm that farmers have shown through the whole thing has been high," he says. "They asked questions and wanted to know the detail before they agreed. We have gone out and collaborated with them rather than told them what to do – and now farmers here and in other areas in the region are starting to form their own catchment groups because of the relationships formed."
While technology has a place, working with nature's own methods and rhythms is vital for any project on the land or water. One of nature's ways of removing manure comes in the form of the humble dung beetle and farmers have signed up in big numbers to use them as part of a wider solution to water quality improvement.
"The idea is that these beetles take all the manure and bury it in the ground. You get better pasture growth, less pasture fouling, it reduces fertiliser bills and it reduces the risk of manure washing into streams," says Oliver.
The council began using dung beetles on its own farm park about two years ago and, because the science stacked up, it now offers government subsidies to help with the high cost.
"When we asked farmers to use dung beetles in Te Hoiere catchment, they were very keen. The subsidy is fully subscribed for this year already because beetles potentially offer a lot of benefit for farmers.
"It's something they can do that's over and above the usual fence-it-off-and-plant-it-up mentality. Most of our dairy farmers have pretty well fenced off their waterways, so they are looking for something new that's scientifically based and will have benefits for them as well as protecting the environment," he says.
"We fund scientists to come down and talk to people about the science behind dung beetles and the government helps fund the farm packs. But it is still a reasonable investment for farmers to make as two farm packs cost $12,000 and the government subsidy is $4000. So farmers are still stumping up big time."
Oliver believes technology and science are important to finding solutions because the certainty of good data is needed when investing a lot of money to solve problems.
"You can't manage what you haven't measured," Oliver says. "Farmers just needed the information and, once they had that, they responded enthusiastically. A lot of them have already done a hell of a lot of work."
"Farmers are incredible 'can do' people. Once they learn what they need to do, they just get on and do it. We signed up one landowner agreement recently and within two weeks the guy just got on and built the fencing.
"That's the beauty of working with them. There's no paper shuffling or seat warming. They just need to understand what needs to be done and why."
Oliver says in the next 10 years Te Hoiere/Pelorus catchment will become the focal point for many scientists throughout the country who will be doing more work to find practical solutions to problems such as E. coli, nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment in waterways.
"We have some pretty big goals and farmers are enthusiastic to work with us to come up with tools the rest of the country can use."