The popular Taylor River has a myriad of uses besides swimming, like the Five Buck a Duck Derby. File photo.

Sewage risk for Taylor River

Sewerage could still be leeching into the Taylor River from earthquake damaged pipes.

The popular river, that wends its way through the Blenheim town centre, is listed as unsuitable for swimming on the Land Air Water Aotearoa (LAWA) interactive swim map due to sewerage contamination.

Despite council plugging what was thought to be the main source of contamination, the Third Lane sewer main, other pipes are yet to be repaired.

Marlborough District Council team leader for water quality Peter Hamill says kilometres of sewerage pipes were damaged in the 2016 Kaikoura quake.

But council scientists say they’re seeing a slight improvement of water quality at the river with recent tests giving swimming the green light.

Peter says he would swim in the river; but only if it hadn’t rained recently.

“We want to make sure people can enjoy the amenities and we’re doing our best to make sure that happens,” Peter says.

The river has a long-term grade of poor, but latest tests say the quality is ‘good’ for swimming.

Peter says following the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake, kilometres of sewerage pipes were damaged causing spikes in e. coli in the waterway.

Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a bacteria commonly found in the gut of warm blooded organisms.

It can survive outside the body about four to six weeks in fresh water making it a useful indicator of faecal presence and the disease-causing organisms that may be present in faecal matter.

E. coli is relatively straightforward and inexpensive to measure, but the indicator bacteria isn’t particularly dangerous, Peter says.

“Campylobactor and giardia are expensive to measure,” he says.

Peter says the Taylor River is safe for dogs.

“What’s bad for humans isn’t necessarily going to have an effect on dogs.”

He says the biggest issue with the Taylor is what people put down their drain.

“Every stormwater grate along the roads – it goes into the Taylor River,” Peter says.

“Urban waterways are difficult, you don’t know what people are putting into their storm water drains.

“That’s why we put the blue fish – to remind people what goes down there ends up with the fish.”

Peter says the river looks to be improving.

“We want it to be available to swim all the time.

“Definitely we have an issue when we get rainfall,” Peter says.

It’s a wider issue for all Marlborough rivers, too.

He says excrement from sheep, goats, cows and even things in the bush like possums, are all washed into the region’s waterways following rain.

“That’s why we recommend people to not swim up to three days after rain,” he says.

Pelorus bridge is the only swimming spot with a long-term grade of ‘good’.

Ferry Bridge’s long-term grade is ‘fair’, while Craig Lochart has a ‘poor’ long-term status.

Peter says for swimmers, the thing to look at is the recent test results.

“At Ferry bridge, 92 per cent of the time it’s safe for swimming,” he says.

“Most of the time, our waterways are ok – it comes down to those rainfall events,” Peter says.

He says council is assisting farmers with fencing and planting and are constantly investigating contamination sources.

“We want people to be able to swim in the river,” he says.

“The council is constantly testing and looking for broken pipes – but it’s the general public that ultimately have the power over the cleanliness of our waterways.

“The key message is everyone in the community can make a difference.”

High winds caused widespread damage to property in Picton. Photo: Supplied.

Fire crews busiest day as dangerous winds wreak havoc in Picton

Picton Volunteer fire crew had one of their busiest days on record last week as severe winds battered the town.

Winds gusting more than 100km caused chaos as the volunteer crew dealt with 12 callouts in less than 12 hours.

And as pine trees snapped in 140km gusts on forestry roads near Tory Channel last Tuesday, it was sheer luck that prevented a major fire, says chief fire officer Wayne Wytenburg.

Many of the crew were busy all day as a barrage of calls came into the national fire communications centre.

From roofs partially being blown off, to arching power lines and a caravan destroyed by severe gusts, the emergencies kept coming, says Wayne.

“We’ve had winds before but not like this, not recently. It was a very busy day for the crew, that’s for sure.

“A crew member was coming back from Tory Channel via forestry roads and clocked a 140km/h gust; pine trees were just snapping.

‘We’re really lucky that nothing landed on power lines or there could have been a huge fire and there would have been nothing we could have done; the winds were too severe.”

The crew got their first call at about 8.30am when glass tiles above the entrance to Picton Medical Centre were shifted by the wind.

Staff called for help, worried the glass tiles would fall and injure someone.

Deputy chief fire officer Greg Frisken says the brigade dealt with three or four calls that morning alone.

Some of the call outs were serious he says, posing a potential threat to life. A job at Seaview Crescent where metal roof tiles were smashing to the ground saw people running for cover.

“By the afternoon it had really ramped up and the calls kept coming.

“We were at the caravan securing it by the St John Ambulance centre when we got a call to go to Queen Charlotte College as part of the roof was lifting there. We secured the caravan temporarily, went to the college and then came back to the caravan.”

Wayne paid tribute to the crews who helped and appealed for more volunteers to sign up.

“They did a marvellous job but we seriously need to get more recruits. We need at least five more staff, especially those who live in Picton.

“I’d also like to thank the employers and those volunteers who are self-employed. We don’t get paid and without the support of the community we wouldn’t be able to do the job we do.”

The fire station is open on a Monday night for potential volunteers from 7pm and would be volunteers are welcome to come along. To find out more, visit the Picton Volunteer Fire Brigade’s Facebook page www.facebook.com/Picton-Volunteer-Fire-Brigade-240974903170254/ or contact Wayne on: 0272226490

Marlborough is one of the driest places in New Zealand. Photo: File.

Water shortages loom as rainfall levels disappoint

Water shortages are looming as latest rainfall totals are revealed with not much respite in sight.

August will fall short of normal rainfall totals it was revealed today, making Marlborough one of the driest regions in the country

Speaking to Marlborough District Council’s Environment Committee on Thursday, environmental scientist – Hydrology Val Wadsworth says soil moisture levels are suffering.

“Marlborough is one of the driest regions in New Zealand – we are only ever six to eight dry weeks away from water shortage issues.”

It’s a big difference from just two months ago, she says.

“Only two months in 2020 – May and June – recorded above average rainfall across the district.

“Annual totals for the year to date are generally about 60 percent to 75 per cent for most of Marlborough.

“A few sites in the Sounds and Te Hoiere/Pelorus areas are up to 90 per cent of the year-to-date (YTD) total.”

Val says in some areas the July and August totals are less than half of the normal rate.

Eastern and Southern Marlborough are sitting at between 45 per cent and 65 percent with Northern and Western Marlborough coming in at between 65 per cent to 75 per cent.

“NIWA is predicting the next two months rainfall to be about normal. There is still time for some good spring rainfall and nature does sometimes tend to balance itself out, but it is not a given.”

“The rainfall over the last few days will be very beneficial for early spring pasture growth,” says Val.

“Despite this, more rainfall is needed in spring to further replenish soil moisture and river base flows for the coming summer.”

The steadily declining Wairau Aquifer will get a much needed boost from the snowfall earlier in the week.

Snow cover in the Marlborough high country is a significant contributor to summer flows, Val says.

“Good Wairau River flows are a key part of the recharge mechanism for the steadily declining Wairau aquifer.

“Pastoral farmers will be the first to feel the pinch if moisture levels don’t produce sufficient spring growth to carry into summer. Irrigators will also be affected if river flows fall to below cut-off levels early or for prolonged periods,” she says.

The Wairau River is flowing below average for this time of year, with flows at between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of normal and the Awatere is at 75 per cent.

Planting work done by Taimate farmer John Hickman to restore native ecosystems may be eligible for future help. Photo: Matt Brown.

New fund to help nurture nature

A new $70,000 dollar a year fund has been set up to help keep Marlborough’s habitat happy.

Marlborough District council have set up the new Working for Nature/Mahi mō te Taiao in a bid to make the environmental grant process easier.

The new initiative will soon be on offer to landowners, businesses and community groups who meet the guidelines.

Deputy Chair of the Environment Committee Gerald Hope says the move puts the process on a par with council’s sports, arts, heritage and youth funding practice.

“Council has successful community grant schemes for sports, the arts and culture, heritage and youth but our environmental grant process has been less well coordinated.

Working for Nature will bring a much better structure to our process for granting funds for environmental protection and enhancement,” he says.

Funding has been reallocated from the Tui to Town programme and the Greening Marlborough fund.

More money could be made available from other sources, depending on demand, Gerald says.

Initiatives geared towards restoring native ecosystems, protecting native habitat and planting stream banks will be first in line.

The proposed $70,000 annual budget would be split between Habitat Marlborough to help restore native habitat and improve biodiversity and fresh water quality.

Protecting Marlborough is set to benefit from a $45,000 funds boost for animal control projects.

Councillor David Oddie says projects can take place on public, private or Māori-owned land.

“This fund will be welcome news for the many groups and individuals in Marlborough who are striving to improve natural habitats and control pests.”

Projects can take place on public, private or Māori-owned land.

“Successful applicants will be required to sign a funding agreement and provide an accountability report once the money is spent.”

The first round of applications will open on 1 October 2020 and close on 31 October 2020.

The decision is subject to ratification by the full Council on Thursday 17 September.

Marlborough District Council solid waste manager Alec McNeil hopes PONG will offer insight into the region’s bad smells. Photo: File.

Council turn to technology to keep bad smells at bay

Bad smells are set to be logged via a new online odour reporting system in a bid to keep them at bay.

Known as Prevailing Odour Not Good (PONG), the system will record and severity of the stench.

Council staff hope the move will offer some insight into where and why unpleasant smells happen.

Solid waste manager Alec McNeil updated colleagues about the move at a meeting in July.

In his report, he explained that he wanted to see the formal reported process strengthened.

“Currently odours are notified to council either direct to the department responsible for the site in question.

“While each odour complaint and follow up action is recorded, there is not a readily accessible culminative picture of odour reporting across the region.

“This will provide a data base recording of odours as experienced by the community.”

The new PONG system will provide staff with a searchable dashboard of offensive smells.

In terms of costs it has only been internal staff time as the systems and technology are already in place.

On-going issues should highlight a persistent problem almost straightaway, says Alec.

“Persistent, objectionable odours … should show a spike of complaints within a particular locale.

“Operationally, the source of the odour would be identified and a mitigation approach taken to reduce the potential for further impact.”

Especially terrible smells getting a lot of complaints would trigger emails to staff so action could be taken.

The council run Bluegums landfill site has come under fire in the past from nearby residents.

As the only mixed waste site in the region, getting up to 65,000 tonnes of waste each year, smells can waft over the southern end of Blenheim.

Council adopted several issues to help including covering the working area at the end of the day and operating an odour suppressant system – using a high-pressured irrigation style spray system.

The public can help keep bad smells at bay by reporting any they come across.

Council hope to put the system live after full council approval in early September.

“Raising community awareness of the availability of the PONG function will be crucial to achieving engagement,” says Alec.

Marlborough District Council is proposing a controversial freedom camping site in Koromiko close under a new bylaw. Photo: Supplied/Marlborough Express.

Carry on Freedom camping?

Council bosses are looking for feedback on freedom camping as they look to review their freedom camping bylaw.

A month-long consultation process is underway, and the public are encouraged to have their say.

Parks and open spaces manager Jane Tito says now is the time for the community to be heard.

“We know freedom camping is a challenging issue in Marlborough and New Zealand.

“Following last year’s Annual Plan process, and in consideration of the submissions and presentations received from the community in recent years, council agreed that a review of the Freedom Camping bylaw was required.

“The new bylaw aims to provide a long-term, sustainable approach to the management of freedom camping in Marlborough, aligned with our neighbouring regions of Nelson, Tasman and Kaikōura,” she says.

The Freedom Camping Control Bylaw 2020 is available to read online on the council’s website.

The bylaw suggests closing the controversial Koromiko Recreation Reserve site to conserve the environment, but instead allow up to 10 freedom campers to park off Picton’s High St and Memorial Park between 6pm and 9am.

People need to ensure they make submissions or highlight other issues, Jane says.

“Once the submission period closes on Monday 7 September all submissions will be summarised in preparation for the hearings.

“The Freedom Camping Sub-Committee, chaired by Councillor David Oddie, will then hear submissions over a three-day period during the week of 14 September,” she says.

“Following the hearings, any amendments to the draft Marlborough District Council Freedom Camping Control Bylaw 2020 will be presented for adoption at the Assets and Services Committee meeting on Thursday 1 October.

“The Bylaw will then be ratified at the next scheduled Council meeting and adopted by Council prior to the 2020/2021 summer season.”

Visit Marlborough.govt.nz for further information.

Flaxbourne farmer John Hickman at the edge of Lake Elterwater. Photo: Matt Brown.

Flaxbourne farmer’s protester challenge

A Marlborough farmer fed up with a lack of action from climate change protesters has challenged them to walk the walk.

Fourth-generation Flaxbourne farmer John Hickman is looking for people to help pioneer change in a practical way.

The forward-thinking farmer wants to give people the chance to help – by getting their hands dirty.

“What got me going was the climate change protests,” he says.

“People were protesting to council and government – and I don’t think that’s the right way to get things done.”

To get the ball rolling, the Taimate Angus co-owner has fenced wetland on his 750-hectare farm and ordered 2000 native plants.

All he needs now is people power to help get the project underway.

He says people should take responsibility for the environment, but that many don’t know where to start.

“I want to give people who are anxious, who are worried about the future, an outlet – something to do that will make a difference to the environment for both habitat restoration and potential climate mitigation”.

“It’s up to each person but a lot of people simply don’t have the means.

“We have the land and the plants, but we struggle with the time,” John says.

Several years ago, John a neighbour and another worker spent weeks planting 6000 natives around Lake Elterwater – which his farm borders.

He says a flood in the first year buried the plants in debris, then it got so dry he and the neighbour had to pump water via a fire pump from the lake to keep them watered.

“It’s a hard environment to get things going, southerlies and northerlies roar through here.

“But we’re now building on a strong base.”

The lake, now boasting healthy lowland totara, kanuka, manuka, Carex, Oleria, Hoheria, cabbage trees, kowhai and flax attracts birdlife that people travel from throughout New Zealand to see.

“The lake’s a showcase area but there are other areas around the farm, other habitats that can be restored,” he says.

The programme has inspired John to replicate the success in other areas in the farm – with hopes to take it even further.

“So, I’m getting the ball rolling and getting things going from here.”

“I wanted somewhere that could link farmers and people that want to help.

“It’s also a way for farmers to do a larger area of planting and brings their cost down.

“At the same time, it helps the urban people that are feeling helpless.”

John says it will also help to break down the rural/urban divide.

“I’m a farmer.

“I don’t consider myself a massive environmentalist, but I do consider myself a protector of the land.”

The first planting day is organised for 9 August.

To get involved email [email protected]

“People, instead of protesting, can come help us out.”

Braden Prideaux and John Kershaw are looking forward to the new cycleway. Photo: Supplied.

Cycle trail work begins

Construction of a new cycle trail along Jacksons Road has begun.

The two-metre-wide,1.3-kilometre trail is being built on road reserve running between Rapaura Road and Allan Scott winery and is expected to be completed by the end of August.

Walking and Cycling Coordinator Braden Prideaux says the trail is part of a wider vineyard cycling network that’s been developed in partnership with the Renwick Smart + Connected Bike Walk Group over previous years.

“The existing narrow road shoulder and the 100 km/h speed limit supported the proposal for an off-road trail, that will provide cyclists with an alternative when travelling this route,” he says.

Minimal disruption is expected during construction, however people travelling along Jacksons Road are asked to be mindful of the works.

Mussels are extensively farmed in the Marlborough Sounds. Photo: Supplied.

Scientists’ mussel seabed solution

Hopes to bring wild mussels back to the Sounds and boost marine diversity have moved a step closer.

An international team of experts are calling for Marlborough District Council to approve plans to create two new mussel beds in the Pelorus Sound.

And marine scientists hope the Marlborough project could spark mussel bed restoration initiatives in other parts of New Zealand.

The move comes after three years of investigation into the best way to create new seabed habitats.

Large areas of mussel beds were destroyed last century as land clearance and ongoing run off from farmland altered the nature of the seabed.

A report prepared for council by marine scientist Dr Andrew Jeffs says dropping clean shells to create a habitat for two new mussel beds in

the Pelorus Sound could stop further deterioration.

“For a number of years there has been concern, including from MDC, about the decline of wild shellfish beds in areas of the Marlborough Sounds.

“Studies in other areas have shown that mussel beds are extremely productive, support high biodiversity, act as nurseries for fin-fish species, and help to remove suspended sediment from the water column and stabilise the seabed,” the report says.

Scientists plan to drop clean shells to act as anchors for live mussels in a bid to test whether coarser seabed substrate will prove a better habitat than silt.

The multi-million-dollar project has attracted significant co-funding and specialist technical support from an overseas environmental NGO, The Nature Conservancy.

“One possibility for the lack of natural recovery of wild mussel populations in the Marlborough Sounds is the inability of mussels to re-establish naturally on this changed seabed substrate,” Andrew says.

“Mussels require sediment particles of at least 2 mm in diameter in order to attach their anchoring threads which hold them upright on the seafloor so they can feed,” he says.

The shell material and live mussels will be actively monitored by researchers.

The Marine Farming Association worked with other community groups, the University of Auckland and NIWA to develop the research plan.

A plan to stamp out stoats from D'Urville Island was signed during the Covid-19 lockdown. Photo: Rod Morris/www.rodmorris.co.nz

Sayonara stoats: D’Urville’s $3.1m plan signed

History has been made during lockdown as a multi-million-dollar deal is signed to stamp out stoats.

There was little fanfare to mark the milestone occasion as the culmination of 16 years work was signed in just a few seconds.

A six-year funding commitment will see a combination of old-school techniques and technology help wipe-out stoats from New Zealand’s fifth largest island.

The 16,782-hectare D’Urville Island, in the Marlborough Sounds, is free of ship rats, Norway rats, possums and weasels.

Now, $3.1 million has been committed to stamping out stoats on the island.

D’Urville Island Stoat Eradication Charitable Trust (DISECT), Predator Free 2050 Limited, Rātā Foundation, Marlborough District Council, the NZ Lotteries Grant Board and landowners have all pledged their support.

Oliver Southerland and Angela Fitchett signing the Marlborough District Council agreement at a carefully prepared COVID-19 signing station. Photo: Supplied.

DISECT co-chair Oliver Sutherland says the moments mark the start of an opportunity to “reverse the history of wildlife loss.”

The project will use a variety of traps and lures, including automated luring with an egg mayo mix, as well as smart detection techniques such as cameras and DNA analysis.

Stoats have caused the local extinction of little spotted kiwi, yellow-crowned kākāriki and South Island kākā and threaten an important population of South Island long-tailed bats/ pekapeka.

Predator Free 2050 Limited chief executive Ed Chignell says the project will provide an important boost to the national Predator Free 2050 effort.

“This is a challenging and ambitious project with a lot at stake for wildlife and important opportunities for innovation and learning,” he says.

The government-owned funder is providing $975,000 and facilitating expertise from other projects around the country.

Marlborough District Council Mayor John Leggett says the restoration of wildlife could open new nature-based jobs and opportunities for the island.

D’Urville Island is New Zealand’s fifth largest island. Photo: Tamzin Henderson/ Driftwood Ecotours.

The council is providing $500,000 of support through its biosecurity programme.

Department of Conservation Sounds operations manager Dave Hayes says DOC has been providing technical advice to the project.

“We are pleased to support this community led initiative and will be continuing to provide expert advice and input throughout its duration of the project.”

Special attention will be given to trapping on the mainland within five kilometres of D’Urville and establishing a surveillance network to quickly detect any incursions across the narrow channel from French Pass.

Field work is expected to start towards the end of this year.