A Maniototo freshwater group is hoping its novel new way of community engagement will bring together people from up and down the Taieri Catchment area.

Today, Tiaki Maniototo is holding the inaugural Taiari Wai River Festival, held at Patearoa School.

Tiaki Maniototo is funded by the Ministry for the Environment’s Jobs for Nature programme to improve water quality in the Taieri Catchment and to engage the community on issues of water conservation.

Communications officer Bill Morris said while the group had held community days before, a water conservation festival was taking it to another level.

He hoped the event would be a fun way of bringing people together with food, drink and music.

‘‘It’s about bringing people into the fold who might not otherwise have been there,’’ Mr Morris said.

‘‘I’m hoping there will be people that will come . . .for the music but end up becoming more involved and knowledgeable and engaged in freshwater conservation.’’

Yesterday, flora and fauna was collected from the catchment area, as a citizen science project to be displayed at the festival.

‘‘[This is an] opportunity for people to engage with scientists and to discuss the animals and plants that exist in the basin,’’ Mr Morris said.

He hoped it would become a regular event people would travel to from across New Zealand.

‘‘The Maniototo is such an incredible area and I think people will love travelling to the area to spend time under those big skies, enjoying music that reflects that landscape and the community that lives there.’’

Hundreds of people were affected by the health of the catchment, right along the length of the Taieri River.

Several towns were situated in the catchment area and people used the catchment for everything from farming to recreation, he said.

The Taieri River was also important to mana whenua, for whom it was a traditional food gathering site.

Mr Morris said the festival could grow a sense of community among these groups.

‘‘It’s about bringing all these people together and having a good time but also providing an opportunity for these quite disparate groups to gather . . . [to] celebrate the river and discuss issues around the river.’’

Conservation efforts were being made in freshwater catchments right across Otago, Mr Morris said.

‘‘We’re hoping [the event] one day could be a place for lots of different groups from around the region to gather and learn about what [others] are up to and connect.’’

The festival begins at noon and entry is free.