January 19, 2022
River clean up creates new challenges
In 2009 the Manawatū River was regarded as one of the most polluted rivers in Aotearoa and possibly the Western world. It shocked the local communities, councils and iwi into doing something about it.
Today the river is clean and swimmable. But that has brought new problems including four drownings over the summer holidays.
Ahimate the location of the recent drownings in the Manawatū River was the site of an old village. Prior to Christianity fire was the element to whakanoa, to remove tapu in particular for protocols around death which is how the place was named Ahimate.
Chris Whaiapu spokesman for Rangitāne says the river’s sinister reputation is more a case of lack of knowledge not only from new migrants and refugees but also visitors and a new generation of local people.
Until ten years ago the Manawatū was seriously polluted from untreated sewerage, farm runoff, industrial waste and urban drainage. The locals swam in pools or other areas rather than the river. It was hurtful to the tangata whenua that the waterway which had been the life-blood of their iwi was so contaminated. Together with local councils and bodies the last decade has been spent improving the water quality.
As a result the river is now swimmable and more people frequent it. Whaiapu says, not so long ago it was rare to see many people down near the river, today people not only swim but also picnic, run, walk or bike alongside it.
Whaiapu says for so long the focus was on the river clean-up but now there are management challenges of how to cope with the many who use the river and to educate the people who come to visit. These include new migrants, refugees, visitors to the area and their own whānau.
One idea they have worked on for a few years is river rangers for the river. The rangers could provide support, such as first aid, security, emergency responders and CPR as well as cultural and tikanga guides.
Whaiapu says they are now focusing energy into teaching the younger ones river knowledge, history and tikanga. “We want them to learn how to swim and live sustainably with the awa so that they become the next generation of kaitiaki.”