Tiny endangered native fish could be some of the big winners from Horizons Regional Council's share of Jobs for Nature funding.
And the projects will create additional jobs and provide a boost for fencing contractors and plant nurseries.
At an extraordinary meeting this week, Horizons councillors voted unanimously to go ahead with projects to increase stream fencing and planting and remove barriers to fish migration.
The Ministry for the Environment (MfE) has approved three of the 13 projects the council put forward for Jobs for Nature funding: riparian fencing and planting, a fish passage programme, and a wetland project for Lake Horowhenua.
The total budget is $27 million, of which the ministry is putting in $18.4m, Horizons 16 per cent or $4.3m (with only $1.3m as new money), and landowners and others contributing the rest.
"Yes, it's some extra funding that we are being asked to support, but for massive clear environmental outcomes," Whanganui councillor Nicola Patrick said.
Rangitīkei councillor John Turkington guessed the environmental return could be as much as 6 per cent - similar to the return on owning a building.
The projects were put together quickly by council staffers Jon Roygard and Logan Brown. They were to span five years, but MfE wants to compress them into four years.
The biggest is the Lake Horowhenua project, where MfE is contributing 90 per cent of the $12.5m budget.
The fencing, planting and fish passage work will take place across the whole region.
Several councillors were very happy with the prospect.
"It's such a privilege to be around the table at this massive step change for the environment," Patrick said.
The council often talks about work to improve water quality. This work would also enhance biodiversity and benefit "non sexy" native creatures, such as little inanga and invertebrates, she said.
Demand for Horizons' help with fencing and riparian planting has increased in the past five years and the council hasn't been able to keep up.
The funding will allow for an extra 405km of fencing and 375,000 plants in the ground, and it will target smaller streams.
Roygard is confident the plants and fenceposts will be available, but is not so sure about the workers.
As many as 125 jobs could be created.
The work will cost $11.3m - $4.6m from MfE, $2.6m from Horizons, and landowners contributing the rest.
The fish passage work will create 15 new jobs and target large barriers to migrating fish, such as the culverts and dams owned by councils and the New Zealand Transport Agency.
It could cost up to $100,000 to remove a large barrier, Brown said, which could open up a new 500km of stream habitat for native fish.
The aim is to remove at least 25 barriers and free up 1250km of stream.
It will be one of the biggest fish passage programmes in the country, Brown said, costing $3.2m, of which Horizons would contribute $300,000.
Horizons will have to employ at least another five permanent staff to run the projects, and others on fixed term contracts or summer internships. It will also need more vehicles, including utilities, a quad bike and a trailer.
The work would be a boost for the region's fencing contractors and plant nurseries, Roygard said.
The purpose of the projects is to provide jobs, and the new people could be useful to Horizons in the longer term.
"It's a great opportunity to bring new people in and train them," Roygard said.
The Pōkākā Ecosanctuary, accelerated pest plant management and an expansion of Kia Wharite were among the projects Horizons put forward that missed out on Jobs for Nature funding.