Wai (Water) is the essence of all life and the world’s most precious resource. It’s of high importance to Māori, as it is the life giver of all things, a precious taonga (treasure), part of our whakapapa (genealogy), part of our identity.
The ‘Kaituna Cut’ in the Bay of Plenty is an example of this. In 1956 a decision was made to divert the flow of the Kaituna River from its natural outlet via Te Awa o Ngātoroirangi / Maketu Estuary so that the surrounding areas could be drained and farmed. However, the new farmland came at a significant price, costing the estuary 90% of its wetland.
Maketu Estuary is of high cultural significance and had sustained the people since the landing of Te Arawa canoe at Maketu. The cut was described by local Maori as a wound that never healed due to the impact it had on traditional food sources.
The demise of the estuary led to public outcry and demand for the river to be rediverted back into the estuary. In 2018 the Bay of Plenty Regional Council announced the start of construction of a significant enhancement project to make Te Awa o Ngātoroirangi/Maketu Estuary healthier for people to swim and fish in.
The large-scale project brought together the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, Western Bay of Plenty District Council iwi and the community working together to ensure its success. It involved rediverting 20% of the rivers flow via a new 650m channel and control gates, new public boat ramp facilities and more than 20 hectares of new wetlands.
WSP was engaged to lead the planning and consenting process, along with supporting environmental and property services.
Restoring what was lost
Community engagement and project transparency were major priorities. Our project team needed to demonstrate that short term pains such as the temporary loss of very popular recreational access during construction would lead to the long-term gain of environmental restoration and improved access.
Re-diverting at least 20% of the rivers flow would restore freshwater connections in the upper estuary, stopping (and potentially reversing) the process of sand infilling the lower estuary, and significantly improve the ecological health of the middle and upper estuary.
The re-creation of 20ha of wetland, together with increased opportunities for public access would begin to address the long-standing negative effects of the Kaituna Cut and associated works.
A front-facing, multi-disciplinary team was formed that met regularly with the public throughout the project. It ensured the community saw early changes, helping their understanding and ongoing support of the project.
It was also important for the community to connect with the site. A series of community planting days in 2019 was so successful organisers ran out of plants before the last day.
Collaboration with iwi to achieve cultural outcomes was critical to the success of the project, with seven iwi groups directly involved and four separate cultural impact assessments supporting the applications. This approach ensured that the project would contribute to the restoration of cultural knowledge and the mauri of the river and estuary.
The success of the upgraded public boat facilities and the creation of a local reserve has further reinforced the positive recreational outcomes of the project. Over time, these positive outcomes are expected to increase and multiply, and additional benefits will become apparent as the estuary finds a new and improved balance.
This project shows that planners and organisations who listen to, collaborate with, and develop an ongoing relationship with their communities, can be a vehicle to enable significant change and positive environmental outcomes.
In February 2020 Tangata whenua, Maketu schoolchildren, and other locals gathered together with contracting staff, Bay of Plenty Regional Council and Western Bay of Plenty District Council representatives, to celebrate the return of freshwater flows from the Kaituna River into Te Awa o Ngātoroirangi/Maketu Estuary.