New water restoration toolkit

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NIWA and partners have developed a new Envirolink toolkit for monitoring the ecological success of stream restoration.

The Envirolink toolkit is now being used in projects to restore streams around New Zealand.

The purpose of the toolkit is to recommend and describe a range of indicators for monitoring improvement in stream restoration projects.

Waitete stream, in the Coromandel, is in its fifth year of catchment restoration. NIWA and Environment Waikato have been working collaboratively to monitor the water quality. To date more than 50% of the catchment has been fenced and riparian margins planted.

The toolkit document provides guidance in choosing indicators to match project goals, and using appropriate methods and timeframes for monitoring indicators.

“It’s about helping people getting going,” says NIWA freshwater scientist John Quinn. “And defining where they are going, then helping them get there… and about how to do things cost-effectively.”

The toolkit has been developed primarily for regional councils, but also provides options for community groups and resource users undertaking stream restoration, often without specialist equipment.

There are several indicators for each type of restoration goal. Most restoration projects aim to return streams towards more natural, pre-human, conditions for biodiversity, physical habitat character, ecological processes, and water quality.

The toolkit will be used to refine restoration goals and implement a self-monitoring programme to check progress.

Andrew Jenks, project manager Waitete stream, has clear objectives for the restoration: “We all want to see less sediment in the stream, and a huge reduction in the algae that smothers the stream bed. We also need to reduce summer water temperature. Farmers and lifestylers want to see a greater variety of native fish and macroinvertebrates.”

So far more than 40 000 trees have been planted. Contractors from a small non-profit trust have worked very closely with community volunteers, and students from six local schools, to establish 8000 trees a year.

A key component of being able to judge the ecological success of restoration is having a defined ‘endpoint’ that the restoration is trying to reach. “The toolkit provides guidance on appropriate indicators depending on the goals of the restoration project, and when to expect improvements,” says Quinn.

In terms of there being an end point for this project, Andrew Jenks says, “There is no full stop to these projects, because of their very nature. You can’t expect new trees to survive all on their own. There needs to be an on-going monitoring aspect to it.”

“It is a very well supported community effort, and we have made very good use of funding provided by agencies including Ministry for the Environment, Environment Waikato, DoC, and local businesses including Newmont Waihi Gold.”

The Toolkit was funded by the Envirolink Tools programme through the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

Other information about this item:
Background
Five criteria have been developed for the Envirolink Toolkit:

1. a dynamic ecological endpoint is identified beforehand and used to guide the restoration
2. the ecological conditions of the river are measurably enhanced
3. the river ecosystem is more self sustaining than before restoration
4. no lasting harm is done
5. both pre-and post-project assessment is completed.

Success is measured in terms of how far a stream moves towards a natural regime. What that state would look like is typically defined by a comparable, but undisturbed, reference site, or by a guiding image of what the stream might have been like to prior to human disturbance.

To judge whether a stream has been measurably enhanced towards a predetermined dynamic endpoint depends upon measurements from the stream prior to impairment and some measure of reference condition are a comparable undisturbed minimally disturbed site.

The guidelines for restoration potential of a river are based on historical knowledge, undisturbed sites elsewhere, collective knowledge or models. And from this a ‘guiding image’ is developed.

Once the guiding image has been formulated, clear restoration goals can be defined and restoration success can be measured.

The key steps in designing your monitoring programme begin with identifying project goal and catchment constraints, understanding your restoration site, and having a clear image or reference site to aim for.

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