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Published: 2013-03-28 00:00:00

Rivers are a central feature of the lifestyles of Waikato people and they care deeply about protecting them, says a new survey report presented at today’s meeting of Waikato Regional Council’s land and water quality subcommittee.

The report says more than two thirds of residents take part in activities in and around rivers and streams, while more than 90 per cent of people see clean waterways in the Waikato region as important.

“These figures illustrate strongly the importance of the regional plan process we and our partner river iwi are carrying out over the way the Waikato and Waipa rivers are managed,” said land and water quality subcommittee chairman Norm Barker.

“The community clearly wants the rivers protected so it’s crucial we get things right to ensure their health going into the future.”

However, Cr Barker said it was also important to note some positive perceptions over river health with, for example, 65 per cent of people rating water quality in the Waikato River as either neutral or good.

The random telephone survey of just over 1000 residents was specifically commissioned to help inform the Healthy Rivers: Plan for Change/Wai Ora He Rautaki Whakapaipai project for the Waikato and Waipa rivers.

Key findings around water use included:

  • 69 per cent of residents participate in activities in, on and around rivers and streams.
  • The three main rivers used across the region are the Waikato, Waipa and Waihou rivers.
  • For those who are actively using the waterways:

- The most popular activities to engage in are walking or walking the dog, (53 per cent), swimming, paddling or jumping in the water (24 per cent) and fishing (20 per cent).

- Other activities included boating (14 per cent) and water skiing (13 per cent).

  • Most people agreed it was important that they can safely eat what is taken from rivers (86 per cent), that water is suitable for swimming/paddling/wading (90 per cent), there are scenic areas to enjoy (89 per cent) and that there are good recreational facilities in general (85 per cent).
  • Also, most residents agreed waterways should provide places for recreation and exercise for communities (91 per cent), provide natural places to visit (91 per cent), provide places for enjoying recreational activities (90 per cent), provide places that are visually appealing (88 per cent), be places for spending time with family and friends (87 per cent) and support active lifestyles (79 per cent).

Key findings around water cleanliness included:

  • Most people felt it was important that rivers and streams should be free from raw human sewage (98 per cent), that there should be no rubbish, debris, or odours in the rivers and streams (95 per cent) and 90 per cent wanted clear water.
  • Nearly all residents agreed it was important to look after the region’s rivers and streams for future generations (99 per cent) and that everyone shares in the responsibility for looking after the region’s rivers and streams (91 per cent agree).
  • Most residents believed the region’s rivers and streams should sustain the wellbeing of communities (84 per cent) and that rivers and streams promote a sense of community pride (84 per cent).

However, perceptions regarding water quality were mixed for the Waikato, Waipa and Waihou rivers.

For the region’s largest waterway, the Waikato River, 32 per cent rated the quality as poor but 35 per cent rated water quality as neutral and 30 per cent rated the water quality as good.

For the Waipa, 61 per cent saw water quality as either neutral or good, while there was only a 15 per cent poor rating for the Waihou, Cr Barker said.

The survey found that if residents believe the water quality is poor there is less likely to be activities that involve being in the water.

Cr Barker said developing freshwater objectives, limits and targets for the plan change would require a detailed discussion with communities and stakeholders.

“These survey results provide a good base for us to start that discussion so we can find the best way forward for the Waikato and Waipa catchments.”