Eugenie Sage splashes out (with our money) on tree planting – but how far does she think it will stretch?

The headline on a press statement from the office of Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage tripped the alarm on the Point of Order Trough Monitor.

It advised:  New funding to make a splash improving water quality


We suspect the new funding will make little more than a ripple, although the statement made the money sound big deal:

The Government is going the extra mile backing the Sustainable Business Network’s Million Metres Streams’ project with a $200,000 funding boost, Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage announced today.

But $200,000 is good for an extra 0.003106855 miles, according to our sums – or 5 metres, if you  prefer.

The Minister is pleased with herself, nevertheless:

“I am excited to be able to announce this funding from the Community Environment Fund for the Million Metres project in time for this year’s autumn planting season.”

Then she said something which caused us to pause:

“The Million Metres project aims to improve water quality by restoring native vegetation along more than 500 kms of New Zealand’s waterways which makes up more than 1 million metres.”

Uh, oh.  What are we being told here.

Oh, yes.  The money has to be stretched over more than 500,000 metres, not more than 1,000,000 metres.

This takes account of the obvious fact that one stream has two banks.

Clarification came from the Million Metres Streams Project website where we found a headline that (in terms of measuring Sage’s “splash”) helpfully said “A MILLION METRES – JUST A DROP IN THE OCEAN?”

Lots of people have asked us what percentage of New Zealand’s waterways is one million metres. For us a million metres – 1,000 km – is for both sides of the waterway, so in terms of waterway length it’s 500 km. That’s only 0.1% of New Zealand’s 425,000 km of rivers and streams*. That 425,000 km doesn’t include lakes (of which 3,820 are greater than one ha) and wetlands.

But hang on a minute, not all 425,000 km are polluted are they? That’s right, 51% (216,750 km) of that length have natural vegetation cover such as native bush or alpine rock and tussock and are not likely to be polluted. However 49% (208,250 km) of that length are in catchments that are likely to be polluted – lowland areas that are used for agriculture, forestry and urban settlement. Additionally, about 40% of lakes are also in catchments where the predominant land cover is pasture.

So, a million metres of planted streambank (500 km of waterway) is actually 0.24% of the 208,250 km** of the modified lowland waterways. Lots of farmers, community groups and other landowners have already made a start with restoration; our million metres we hope will speed things up a bit. And to make that happen we all need to work together to restore the lifeblood to our waterways.

* Figures from the Ministry for the Environment.

** Scientists usually use whole rivers or streams, rather than kms of waterway, as a unit of measure. See the info Dr Mike Joy of Massey University has shared quantifying rivers and streams that are actually polluted. 

The Million Metres Streams Project website also has a counter to show how many metres have been funded so far:  0,045,421 metres funded, it says.

Hmm.  Some way to go.

Sage’s statement goes on:

“New Zealanders have told us that they care about our rivers, streams, wetlands and lakes and want to see them clean and healthy and fit for swimming and gathering kai from. The Million Metres project is helping by encouraging communities to plant more trees, shrubs and other native plants beside rivers and streams,” said Eugenie Sage.

The funding from the Ministry for the Environment’s Community Environment Fund represents around 20 per cent of the project’s total costs.

“The Community Environment Fund is one of the many ways this government is working to better care for our environment by protecting nature, improving water quality, and tackling climate change. All of these benefit from planting native species.

“Alongside funding help such as this, the government is making good progress in developing new rules to help protect and restore our freshwater for all New Zealanders.”

The Sustainable Business Network encourages projects that strengthen community partnerships and enable people to get involved in new environmental initiatives, Sage said.

The Million Metres Streams Project website tells us more.

In 2013 the Ministry for the Environment reported 60 per cent of monitored rivers nationwide were unsafe for swimming and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment warned that without significant intervention, almost every river and lake will have deteriorated by 2020.

Over the previous decade dozens of groups around the country had been working hard each planting season in mitigating a lot of the damage with riparian planting.

But it wasn’t happening fast enough. The sector is fragmented and resource is limited.

At the Transit of Venus conference in 2012, a mandate emerged to work cooperatively to see New Zealand’s waterways return to “a state of ora, wellbeing and abundance”.

Championed by Dame Anne Salmond, this has become Te Awaroa – a movement to restore 1000 rivers by 2050.

We at the Sustainable Business Network and Enspiral were excited by this idea and started thinking about how we might help. The Million Metres Streams Project is the result of discussions with people, businesses and organisations across the country who have committed to work together to accelerate the riparian restoration activity in NZ by injecting a new stream of resource.

The core idea was this : to make it easy and exciting to invest in the health of our waterways – to open it up to everyone in New Zealand – people and businesses wanting to do good.

Now we invite you all to take part, to fund your metre (or more) of streambank and be part of this national story of how New Zealanders collectively took action to protect something that was important to them, and together, succeeded. After all, what’s more valuable than our water?

Planting a million metres of riparian margins isn’t the whole solution to our freshwater crisis, but it’s a significant step forward. And it’s something you can do right now.

The website tells us more.


The Sustainable Business Network – the organisation that co-developed Million Metres – is a non-profit entity. 15% of your donation goes towards SBN office running costs. SBN running costs include the salaries of three staff members and design, web development and video photography/editing for the website and communications materials, and office supplies. We have been lucky to secure the pro-bono services of Brookfields lawyers which has kept costs down, and welcome any other in-kind sponsors.


Fantastic – every metre counts towards the million metres goal. Choose the stream project to support (see Open Projects). Your donation qualifies for a tax credit and does not attract GST!

How do you know the project is reputable and in it for the long haul? We only work with credible Field Partners and projects with systems in place to ensure plants are put in the ground, the plantings get after-care, and importantly ensure changes in stream water quality are recorded. All our Field Partners have signed an agreement with us stating that – so you can be sure that the plants you pay for will survive into the future.

We are left wondering if taxpayers’ contributions via Eugenie Sage qualifies for a tax credit and is exempt from GST.

We are also left wondering how big a splash Sage thinks she has made.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.