When the Ruamāhanga leaves the Tararua Ranges in the Wairarapa, her water is pristine, and there are many popular swimming spots in her upper reaches. But then she hits Masterton, where for decades, sewage was dumped into the river. Farmers have taken water from her to grow their crops and filled it with nitrogen run-off. Sediment washes into her, which clogs her up like someone with a bad cold.
By the time she reaches Lake Onoke, the pristine water from the ranges is unrecognisable, as is the river itself.
There’s another threat on the horizon; water storage. The proposed Wairarapa Water Storage scheme will impact the Ruamāhanga by encouraging further intensification of land use, causing more pollution to the river. This scheme received $800,000 in Government subsidies, showing they really don’t care about the water quality issues the region faces.
Those who love this river, for whom it is the beating heart of the rohe, have recognised that the Ruamāhanga needs help. Ngati Moe are planting native shrubs at the edge of the river to soak up nitrogen run-off and are working to restore fat and healthy tuna and other native fish. Wairarapa farmers have committed to protecting the river from nutrients, and the South Wairarapa Biodiversity Group is working to restore Lake Onoke. There are changes being made to the sewage system, working groups listening to the community about what they want for the river, volunteers are getting kids interested in replenishing her with tuna too.
But to protect the river and make it clean enough to swim in again, the Government needs to show it has higher aspirations for our water.