Committed to Improvements

March 16, 2021

The small Canterbury community of Hekeao / Hinds (south of Ashburton) is taking a lead role in a nationally important environmental programme. The Hekeao / Hinds Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR) project is New Zealand’s largest managed groundwater rehabilitation project, delivering ecosystem health and enhanced environmental, cultural and recreational values.

Managed Aquifer Recharge is not new. It involves the intentional recharge of water to aquifers for environmental benefit. Infiltration basins, which act like big leaky ponds, are filled with high-quality clean water which seeps down and recharges the groundwater with benefits including the natural treatment of water to enhance quality and the replenishing of aquifers. In this case, clean alpine water from the Rangitata River is delivered to the MAR sites through irrigation races and pipes.  The silts carried by the water settle in the forebay before the water is allowed to flow through to the main infiltration basin. From there, the clean water seeps down to recharge the groundwater system. 

Peter Lowe, the Chair of the Hekeao / Hinds Water Enhancement Trust, which is leading the project, says the programme is both exciting and necessary if the community is to address water quality issues in groundwater, the Hinds River and Hinds Drains.

“The Hekeao/Hinds catchment has historically engaged in intensive farming practice without the knowledge we have today. This has degraded the underground and coastal water resource in the catchment, and it is now our responsibility to take action to address these historical issues. These actions include improved land use practises, irrigated area constraints and MAR. This situation isn’t unique to our catchment, but our response is very much leading edge,” said Lowe. 

Under Plan Change 2 to Canterbury’s Land and Water Regional Plan and the Government’s Essential Freshwater package, the catchment must take action if they are to continue to farm in the region.

“This isn’t just about farming, which is the economic backbone of our community, its also about ensuring future generations can swim and fish in rivers and enjoy other recreational benefits,” said Lowe.

The MAR project is working with Arowhenua Rūnanga to improve mahinga kai and a lizard habitat has been created on one project site. A wetland area has also been created to enhance biodiversity elements with the transfer of Kōwaro / Canterbury mudfish anticipated later this year.

The initial MAR pilot site, established in 2016, showed success and as a result, 16 further sites are now in operation. The pilot achieved the required reduction in nitrate concentrations and a raising of ground water levels. As a result of this success, the Trust is taking the next steps to extend the project and develop a catchment wide scheme. There are funding implications for the community associated with this, and a targeted rate is proposed for the catchment in the Environment Canterbury LTP to assist with meeting ongoing operational costs. This is open to community consultation.

Modelling completed for the MAR Business Case suggests that the activity associated with completion of the MAR project will support jobs in the local as well as wider communities.  

“Doing nothing is not an option for the catchment. This really is about our community’s long term future and success and I encourage the community to support the project options. We already have significant support from many in the community who realise that this is an essential project to help ensure a positive outcome for future generations,” said Lowe.

Community meetings are scheduled for Tuesday 30 March, 10.30am at the Mayfield Memorial Hall and 2.00pm at the Hinds Community Hall. Further information is available on the HHWET website ( or Facebook page.

Further Information

Jackie Curtis 021 810 590

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