A bit more history...
Waitaha were the first settlers of the Avon (Otakaro) River catchment, and made use of both the transport capabilities of the estuary and its rich supply of eels, whitebait, flounder and pipi. Their main villages were nearest modern day Pleasant Point, while the Ngati Mamoe and Ngai Tahu people used the sandy soil at the river mouth to grow kumara and aruhe (fern root), building manuka weirs to catch migrating eels. When Europeans settlers arrived, the vast Canterbury plains were seen as “copiously watered with rivers”, and, compared to waterways in their homelands, “clear as crystal.” Native flax, toi-toi and cabbage trees astounded the immigrants, as did the animals (birds, lizards and flounder) they attracted. At places the 26 kilometre-long river reached depths of 3 – 6 metres and small fishing trades were set up.
Farming was the main use of the land around the campus waterways until the 1970s, when the University of Canterbury's construction was largely completed, despite difficulties stemming from the high water table and swampy land it is founded on.
Since the settlement of the region, the Avon River has been used for drainage purposes -especially during the new University campus construction- and this resulted in considerable degradation to the local waterways. The upper reach of the Avon, known as Ilam Stream or Clarkson’s Drain, was proposed for recieving piped storwater discharge. Housing development and road implementation have increased the amount of impermeable surfaces, causing groundwater springs to dry up and inputting poor quality storm water from residential and carpark run-off, often with higher contaminant levels, to the surviving waterways. Removal of wetland and stream-side native vegetation and replacement with exotic deciduous species and mown grass has resulted in streambed siltation and riparian habitat loss. Both stream-straightening and clearing aquatic matter from within the streams saw the variety of flora and fauna present decline and certainly affected the natural character of the waterways.
1996 brought the beginnings of the waterways rehabilitation project through a student-led initiative to replant the Avons banks and restore native wildlife in the process. Consequentially both academic and general university staff and the campus environmental group became involved, and the project has expanded to oversee the continual upkeep and improvement of all campus waterways.
Maintenance efforts have included reduction in bed raking for minimal intervention, weed species removal, and nine riparian planting areas added along both the Avon and Okeover. Mayflies were trialled and headwaters rehabilitation began in 2003, which received a gold award for sustainable design (NZILA) the following year, when mudfish and crayfish were introduced also.
2005 saw several projects, including meanders rehabilitation, eel housing and harakeke softening, and stormwater was investigated in depth during the next few years.
Using these ecological landscape treatments, stream velocity manipulation, and other applications there has been a visible increase in sediment and debris accumulation processes and riparian restoration, all aiding renewal of the natural waterways habitat.