Making Kaiate Falls swimmable again

Crystal Jones is passionate about the future of the Kaiate Falls and surrounding streams.

As one of the landowners in the area, she is determined to reduce the E.coli contamination in the streams feeding into the Kaiate Falls by fencing the streams and planting native trees and plants along the stream banks.

“The Kaiate stream runs through my farm along with the Otawera stream,” says Crystal. “We’re working on an environmental plan between myself and Bay of Plenty Regional Council to fence off the streams within three years, with the goal of reducing the E.Coli at the falls.

“We haven’t worked out all the details of all  the plan yet, but I wanted to start this winter and  get it under way, so we made a start with the  Kaiate stream.”

The farm, which originally belonged to Crystal’s grandfather, was sold to her father, and then Crystal inherited the land when her father passed away three years ago. She’s decided to sacrifice about 14  hectares of the grazing land to provide a significant area for planting.

Over winter is the best time for planting, so instead of waiting until next year, Crystal organised a planting day in August, and about 55 volunteers came and helped.

“A lot of the local land owners are in the Waitao Landcare group and have been doing this over the last five years already,” says Crystal. “There’s also a wonderful community aspect where the neighbours get together after planting and have a cuppa together and catch up on life.”

Many in the community have joined the ‘Let’s Make Kaiate Falls Swimmable again’ Facebook group which aims to improve the water quality through the fencing and planting programme upstream from the falls so that everyone can one day enjoy swimming at the Kaiate Falls again.

“We will achieve this by fencing off the stream tributaries and planting native trees along both sides of 5.5km of stream,” says a group spokesperson. “This will require an estimated 20,000 native plants and will return around 14 hectares of farmland to native bush. The idea is that these planted stream margins help filter rain runoff, reducing the  amount of E.coli, sediment and nutrients entering the streams”.

For the August planting that Crystal organised, a variety of plants came on the back of a Mega Pacific Ute from Naturally Native Nursery. More plants came from the Waitao Landcare Group, with volunteers, including some of Crystal’s friends from Hamilton, arriving to help plant.

“Waitao Landcare group donated about 200-250 plants, and altogether we had about 875 plants to put into the ground,” says Crystal.

“We planted about 0.3 hectares, so there’s a lot more work required over the next few years to return 14 hectares back into natives, and I’ve learned that 20,000 trees is a low estimate.” Crystal is investigating the opportunity of crowdfunding through Million Metres to help fund the purchasing of native plants needed.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council Land Management Officer, Hayden Schick commented that the success of the planting day directly reflected the level of commitment within the community to make the Kaiate Falls swimmable again.

“It’s fantastic to have so many people come together – some from as far as Waihi – to get personally involved in improving the quality  of the water of the Kaiate Falls catchment,”  says Hayden.

“Making the falls swimmable again will require a community-wide commitment. The planting day on Saturday is hopefully the first of many not just on the Jones’ farm but also across the whole catchment. If we continue to work in partnership with Crystal to reduce E.coli levels and can replicate similar programmes on other properties in the area, then we will be a long way down the track to get the permanent health warning lifted.

“We are currently in discussions with a number of other landowners above the Kaiate Falls who are committed to improving the quality of the water that flows over the falls and into the Rangataua Bay.

The Waitao Stream catchment covers approximately 3,732 hectares and enters the Tauranga Harbour at Rangataua Bay. About half of the catchment is native bush and scrub, and the other half is in pasture, pines and horticulture.

Eight Hapu have interest in the area, with about  150 households in the catchment.

The Bay of Plenty Regional Council has estimated that 34 hectares of planting and 14km of fencing across the catchment will be required as part of a wider environmental plan for  the catchment.

Kaiate Falls is regarded by many as a national treasure. It is a popular swimming hole amongst locals, but is currently deemed unsafe for swimming with a health warning due to faecal contamination. The falls has carried the health warning since 2017 due to high levels of E.Coli bacteria and faecal contamination.

In January 2019, Toi Te Ora Medical Officer of Health Dr Jim Miller said that after rainfall, water going down into areas like the Kaiate Falls are likely to be contaminated with animal faeces from rural and urban run-off.

“Farmers love the outdoors and nature and want to keep the land in as good condition as we can and when the time comes, pass it on in a better state,” says Crystal.

                 Photo credit: Cameron Avery.

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