Motu Catchment Plan

Motu Catchment Plan

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Motu Catchment Plan

Gisborne District Council is preparing to develop a Motu Catchment Plan as part of its implementation of the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management.

The Motu Catchment Plan will also include the adjacent Koranga River, Opato Stream and Pakihi Stream catchments within the Gisborne region. The plan will set the regulatory and non regulatory framework for water quality and quantity within the catchment and eventually sit within the Tairawhiti Resource Management Plan.

The Mōtu River is Gisborne’s largest upland river. It has significant ecological values particularly in the upper reaches. The river’s water quality, aquatic ecosystem values, swimming values and the quality of its trout fishery have been gradually declining with the intensification of grazing, climate changes and other land-use activities.

Motu Catchment Plan Background [PDF, 13 MB]

Read more about why the Motu catchment is vulnerable. 

When developing the Motu Catchment Plan, our aim is to:

1. Ensure the mauri and values of waterways are recognised, protected and enhanced.
2. Ensure the interests and rights of tangata whenua are reflected in the plan.
3. Ensure residents and stakeholders have opportunities to inform how water will be managed.
4. Provide clear direction for sustainable management of freshwater in the catchment.

Our plan is to engage with the community from now to July 2021 to develop the content of the plan. It will include:

• Identifying issues and values of waterbodies in the catchment
• Mapping management units (FMU)
• Formulating objectives
• Setting targets
• Setting limits for water quality and quantity
• Outlining non-regulatory projects that support achieving objectives and targets

Engagement with tangata whenua

Tikanga, matauranga, kaitakitanga and the aspirations of mana whenua aspirations are essential for designing the values, objectives, limits and activities in the catchment plan.

We’re engaging with whanau and hapu of Te Aitanga a Mahaki, Nga Ariki Kaiputahi and Te Whanau a Apanui to create the plan through hapu/Iwi hui and regular updates to iwi governance and representatives from hapu on the technical reference group.

Community and wider engagement

We will hold 3 community workshops with residents and whanau from the Motu and Matawai communities. All meetings are open to anyone to attend. 

Workshop 1: Held 15 October - Meeting Powerpoint Presentation [PDF, 14 MB]  
Workshop 2: To be confirmed in March 2021
Workshop 3: To be confirmed in August 2021

You can also provide your feedback by email to: freshwater@gdc.govt.nz 

Next steps

Stakeholder meetings and hui - November - July
Further community meetings - March and August 2021
Draft plan for feedback - August
Final draft for public notification - October 2021

About the Motu Catchment

Motu CatchmentThe Mōtu River is Gisborne’s largest upland river. It has significant ecological values particularly in the upper reaches. The river’s water quality, aquatic ecosystem values, swimming values and the quality of its trout fishery have been gradually declining with the intensification of grazing, climate changes and other land-use activities.

At the Mōtu Falls is the Whinray Scenic Reserve – the only place in the North Island where kiwi and weka co-habit.  The catchment is home to Hochstetter’s Frog, Blue Duck, long tailed bat, koaro, longfin eel and a range of other threatened riverine species. The river is an important habitat for tuna – a key indicator of mauri for tangata whenua which include hapu of Te Aitanga a Mahaki, Nga Ariki Kaiputahi and Te Whanau a Apanui.

The Lower Mōtu – within the Bay of Plenty region – is subject to a water conservation order and the whole river is noted for its nationally significant trout fishery.  However, 35 kilometres of the river runs through farmland in the Gisborne district above the water conservation order and the values within the farming on the extensive terrace system adjacent to the river is widespread. 

The Upper Mōtu River is considered to be the single most at-risk river in the region. There are also 2 of the largest regionally significant wetlands adjacent to the headwaters. The area is the main access for trout anglers and is an international fishing destination. It’s also the gateway to the Mōtu Trails NZ Cycle Trail which commences at Mōtu Village next to the river.   

Why it’s a vulnerable catchment

Intensification of land use is the primary activity impacting on water quality that include:

  • increased sedimentation from cultivation for cropping;
  • increased fertiliser runoff and leaching from crop establishment;
  • sediment and faecal input from stock access  to the river and its tributaries from sheep, and dairy farms
  • substantial drainage of ephemeral wetlands, and straightening of the river with loss of riparian vegetation and habitat. 

Conversion to dairy farming is happening within the catchment with the large river terraces, and proximity to the dairy factory at Edgecumbe being favourable to the area.  While currently only 2 of the region’s 5 dairy farms are located in the catchment, up to 11 further dairy farms are possible. Other parts of the catchment have recorded the largest degree of increasing intensification of stock grazing, large-scale beef, fodder crops and wintering of dairy stock is occurring. 

The pumice soils on the terraces with stony soils on slopes means there’s high rates of leaching of nutrients. Water quality trends indicate that phosphate levels are increasing and data has captured large spikes of ammonia, particularly in the lower reaches. 

Alongside this, septic tank maintenance in the villages of Matawai and Mōtu has been poor, and failures are increasing in winter with high rainfall in the area.  State Highway 2 is a major stock transport route and there are ongoing problems with illegal discharges of stock effluent from holding tanks.

The river has a high build-up of silt and sediment on the river bed during periods of low flow. Recently algae - Phormidium - has become widespread in the catchment. Council staff suspect it's reaching a tipping point. Trout surveys undertaken by Fish and Game also indicate that the nationally significant trout fishery is in decline.

Research and reports

Ballantine, D. J., & Davies-Colley, R. J. (2009). Recommendations for water quality monitoring of a new dairying area – Upper Motu Catchment. Hamilton: National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research Ltd.  

Champion, P., & Wells, R. (2017). Vegetation survey of aquatic and wetland sites in Gisborne District. Hamilton: National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research Ltd.  

Easton, L., Alipin, J., & Roil, H. (2019). State of Water Resources - Motu Catchment. Gisborne: Gisborne District Council.  

Gisborne District Council. (n.d). Upper Mōtu River Project [PDF, 3.5 MB]. Gisborne District Council, Gisborne.  

MacMurray, C. (1984). The Motu Dialogue [PDF, 16 MB]. A report prepared for the Recreation and Landscape Values Working Party. 

McColl, R. (1986). Motu River: A Description of its Catchment, Channel, Waters and Sediments. Wellington: Ministry of Works and Development. 

Roil, H., Trevelyan, A., & Duncan, M. (2016). Instream habitat and minimum flow and allocation requirements in the Motu River. Gisborne District Council and National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research Ltd.

Contact us if you would like a copy of a report.