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However, pollution has hastened the decline in native fish numbers over the past 100 years, and one species, the grayling, has become extinct. The river’s health is of concern to Māori and conservationists, and also to recreational users such as swimmers, kayakers and waterskiers.In 2008 Waikato-Tainui tribes signed an agreement with government to protect the Waikato River for future generations, and this was made law under the Waikato-Tainui Raupatu Claims (Waikato River) Settlement Act 2010.At 425 km, the Waikato is the longest river in New Zealand.It begins on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu, draining into Lake Taupō and exiting at the north-east.Revegetation and creation of reserves in the upper reaches helped reduce erosion and silting of the river from adjacent pumice land.The construction of hydroelectric power stations dramatically changed the river’s flow.Huge sand dunes cap both heads, and the river estuary is tidal.At Maioro, on the north head, New Zealand Steel mines ironsand for its Glenbrook mill.
Ngāti Tūwharetoa has interests in the ‘Taupō waters’, including Lake Taupō and the Waikato River downstream of the lake as far as Huka Falls, while Tainui tribes claim mana (authority) over the rest of the river.
The Waikato–Waipā drainage system became overloaded and there were floods in the lower reaches from the late 19th century.
The Waikato Valley Authority, set up in 1956 to tackle the problem, constructed flood-control works during the 1960s.
Steel hulks on the banks of the Waikato River south of Mercer are relics of the shipping ventures of Caesar Roose, a lifelong promoter of river transport.
For decades until 1976, the steamers, launches and barges of the Roose Shipping Company carried passengers and freight along the Waikato and Waipā rivers.