The Problem

The once beautiful, healthy Manawatū River at Foxton Te Awahou no longer exists. The lives of people and the quality of the environment have been harmed because of mismanaged earthworks undertaken by the New Zealand Public Works Department in 1943.

Work started in 1942 on building a weir to speed up the release of river water in times of flooding to allow flood surges to by-pass the Foxton Te Awahou River Loop, by taking a shorter route to the ocean. While this work was being undertaken, the river flooded, and the unfinished barrier forming the weir was washed away, thus creating a new path for the river to permanently circumvent Foxton. This shortened pathway is called the Whirokino Cut.

The impacts of this redirection of the main river flow have had dire consequences. On the index of socio-economic deprivation where ten is the most deprived, Foxton Te Awahou is now designated level ten.

Save Our River Trust

Save Our River Trust (SORT) is a community group of volunteers with the aim of restoring a healthy flow back into the Manawatu River Loop at Foxton Te Awahou for the benefit of our people and the environment. SORT also actively undertakes beautification, maintenance and wetland works on the banks of the River Loop around the town frontage. The Trust has now produced a video (see right), showing the extent of environmental degradation and outlining plans for improvement.

The Solutions

To restore the health of the River, the Foxton community and the environment, flow must be bought back to the “Loop” section of the river. There are two key phases of work to be done. Phase One is a “shovel ready” project involving river front works at Foxton. Plans and consents exist; funding is sought from the Provincial Growth Fund, and the project is soundly based on extensive planning work. Constructing river front amenities will deliver local employment opportunities, both in constructing the facility and then supporting tourism and leisure activities. Proposed Phase Two work would reinstate flow to the river by opening the north end of the Loop to free water flow.

The community has waited 77 years for the problem to be fixed. We have the plans and support to do this. River front works are good to go, so let's do it!


How the Community and Environment Once Were

The Manawatū River Loop at Foxton Te Awahou was, until 1942, the natural course of the Manawatū River, and Foxton was an important, thriving port and hub for goods being shipped in and out of the Manawatū area. It was also the ancestral home of hapū of Ngāti Raukawa, and later an important settlement, with many other people choosing to live at Foxton Te Awahou to enjoy its employment and recreational amenities. Many lived on the bounties of the river, collecting kai and connecting on the river to other communities and opportunities. 

Current Situation

In the years since the main river was diverted, the River Loop has become blocked at the top end where the Whirokino Cut starts. The Manawatu River simply flows straight past the original mouth of the Loop with complete lack of flow into the Loop, and stagnation is now compounded by silt-laden floodwaters from the neighbouring Moutoa Spillway. The Loop is cut off from river flow, and is now a tidal backwash.

Water quality is now designated ‘toxic’, with high levels of bacteria such as E.coli. All water activities on the Loop involve health risks. Many species of native fauna and flora have long gone, while other invasive species such as Glyceria, an introduced aquatic grass, now choke the watercourse.

Governments have not delivered on past admissions and promises

In 1949 the Minister of Works admitted responsibility for the environmental damage caused by Public Works, and undertook to ‘right the wrongs’. However, no action was taken.

Subsequent NZ Governments have evaded responsibility for solving the problem, taking no action following the 1953 Commission of Inquiry into the botched river work, or the 1986 Parliamentary Debates Vol 475 p 5401. Instead Governments have repeatedly parcelled out the problem to subsidiary agencies, none of which has, or indeed can, deliver a 'joined up' package of remedial actions.

The un-remediated environmental, economic, social and cultural damage caused by Governmental action, and later inaction, is an ongoing injustice that must be put right. The potential of Foxton must be unlocked; opening the Loop is central to this, to bring health, employment and well-being back to our community and further enhance our mana.

For further information please contact one of the following SORT members:

Robin Hapi CNZM - Chair                                       

Janine Smart - Communications                          

Sarah and Jim Harper - Video Producers            

View the documentary on the past, present and possible future of the Manawatū River Estuary,  produced by the Foxton Save Our River Trust.