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Published: 2015-03-03 00:00:00

The importance of the Waikato and Waipa rivers to the region’s tourism sector has been emphasised at a workshop for a key project designed to protect and restore the waterways.

The comments came at the latest Collaborative Stakeholder Group (CSG) meeting at Karapiro for Healthy Rivers: Plan for Change/Wai Ora: He Rautaki Whakapaipai.

The multi-sector group working with the regional council and iwi on new rules for the rivers heard a range of tourism and recreation perspectives.

CSG tourism and recreation sector representative Alastair Calder said: “A high quality river environment underpins many tourism experiences and recreational values. Tourism is vital for New Zealand and the region.”

Hamilton & Waikato Tourism CEO Kiri Goulter said: “Tourism is worth $24 billion to New Zealand’s economy and is our second largest export sector. It’s also a ‘shop window’ for economic development - people come as tourists and return to live and establish businesses.

“Our landscape and natural attractions are the main reasons why visitors come to New Zealand. The Waikato and Waipa rivers are significantly important but, at this point in time, there are limited opportunities for visitors to engage. This presents opportunities for new visitor experiences to be developed,” she added.

Whaingaroa Harbour Care chair Fiona Edwards spoke of how a 20-year community project has transformed Raglan harbour, and benefited tourism and the wider economy. She shared learnings that could possibly be applied.

Te Awa Cycle Trails’ Andrew Roche and Waikato River Trails’ Glyn Wooller spoke of the development of cycle trails that are opening up opportunities to experience the Waikato River.

The latest workshop also discussed how the CSG will be taking into account another major project working to help restore and protect the health and wellbeing of the Waipa River, and the Waikato River from Ngaruawahia to the mouth.

The workshop was briefed on the new Waipa Catchment Plan which promotes voluntary actions to improve water quality, conserve soil, restore and protect important biodiversity habitats and meet iwi aspirations for the Waipa River.

The Waipa River’s major issue is poor clarity caused by sediment, and it is the biggest contributor of sediment to the Waikato River. The Waipa Catchment Plan takes a proactive, prioritised and integrated ‘whole of catchment’ approach to managing the Waipa catchment’s land and water.

The Waipa Catchment Plan started being implemented late last year. Currently work is underway with farmers in parts of the catchment prioritised for soil conservation and river works. Work in areas prioritised for nutrient load reduction is set to start later in this year.

The Waikato River Authority has also approved up to $1.5 million funding over three years for implementing projects identified in the Waipa Catchment Plan, dependent on matched funding from Waikato Regional Council in its 2015-2025 Long Term Plan.

Meanwhile, the wider public will have a number of opportunities over the next few months for to find out what’s happening with Healthy Rivers/Wai Ora and to give their thoughts to the CSG on its work to date.

A Healthy Rivers/Wai Ora 2015 stakeholder workshop: Water quality issues and their causes will be held in Hamilton from 10am to 3pm on Wednesday 25 March. To attend, please register online by Friday 13 March at www.waikatoregion.govt.nz/healthyrivers/

An online survey and public drop in sessions are also being held. Details will be available at waikatoregion.govt.nz/healthyrivers/.