Community Commits to Hekeao / Hinds MAR project

July 8, 2021

The Canterbury community of Hekeao / Hinds (south of Ashburton) has taken a further step in leading a nationally important environmental programme. Environment Canterbury’s Long Term Plan 2021-2031 included a proposed targeted rating of the community to provide primary funding of the Hekeao / Hinds Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR) project. The overwhelming number of submissions from the local community, in support of the targeted rate, resulted in the confirmation of the funding source. 

The Hekeao/Hinds 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. 

The Hekeao / Hinds MAR project has benefited from financial and in-kind support from the local community to develop and prove the MAR concept over the last five years, as well as significant financial support through local and central government. With proof of concept achieved, the local and central government funding will conclude in mid-2022, leaving the local community to fund and lead the next phase of improving MAR scale, effectiveness and efficiency.

Peter Lowe, the Chair of the Hekeao / Hinds Water Enhancement Trust, which is leading the project, says this step up in local leadership of the programme is both exciting and necessary 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 benefit of the knowledge we have today regarding water quality. Groundwater monitoring, back as far as the early 1980s, and more recently undertaken by MHV Water and HHWET, shows that some of the underground and coastal water resource in the catchment are degraded. It is now our responsibility to take action to address these legacy issues. We are addressing the issues in a number of ways. First and foremost, the community are focused on-farm with improving land use practises, including irrigation and fertiliser application. Managed Aquifer Recharge is focussed on legacy groundwater quality while Near River Recharge is improving water quality and flows in the Hekeao / Hinds River.  We are also involved in bio-diversity initiatives with wetlands and plantings. The challenges we face aren’t unique to our catchment, but our response is very much leading edge,” said Lowe.

Under Plan Change 2 (2018) to Canterbury’s Land and Water Regional Plan, the catchment must reduce Nitrate leaching from farming activities by 36% by 2035, with the first stepped reduction by 2025. The more recent National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (2020) includes objectives to make progress even more quickly and set further aspirational goals.

“This isn’t just about farming, which is the economic backbone of our community, it’s also about ensuring future generations can swim and fish in rivers and enjoy other recreational benefits. The Trust is thrilled with the community support received for the targeted rate. This demonstrates a community that cares, stands up and addresses the water issues that it faces,” said Lowe.

The fifth year of the Hekeao / Hinds MAR project has recently concluded, with a 66% increase in recharge volume compared with Year 4 and measurable improvements in groundwater quality and Hekeao / Hinds River flows. Full results will be available on the HHWET website ( as soon as they are confirmed, with progress reports and additional information published on the HHWET Facebook page.

Further Information: Peter Lowe Phone 0272233784

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