Friday, 11 March 2016

The Hutt river is no longer flowing freely

Our disappearing river
The Hutt river in the climate change-induced drought


The news from across the world on what is happening to our planet is quite overwhelming these days and I find it difficult to keep up, so today I will concentrate in what is happening in my own backyard.

Over the last couple of years I have been chronicling what has been happening locally, partially by observing (but not measuring) what is happening to our river.

It is,once again, a case of “faster than previously expected

When I went out for a walk the other day I got a shock.

In the area near the Ewan Bridge where I have observed aggradation (shingle deposits on the river bed) there was practically no flow of water for much of the river.

And a video: 

But my shock was even greater when I looked further along the river oward the railway bridge. 

This is where the river flows down the sea and there has always been a healthy flow of water. The river was still relatively wide and there was an flow interrrupted of water.

However this is what I saw:

There was a large area of moss-covered shingle and the flow of water was narrow.

Here is a video:

What happened next was also unexpected.

I went down to the river a few hours later and much of the flow was restored but the river was flowing UPSTREAM!

This video is taken two days later with a fairly stiff southerly wind

This of course has to be caused by the incoming tide. Without anyone to tell me I am wondering aloud if these tidal flows are accentuated when the river has very little water in it.

Wellington's changing climate

Because I have had a horse for the last 12 years I can tell you exactly what has been happening to our weather during that time without any intervention from the experts.

The last winter that the capital had with a “normal” winter with lots of frosty days was in 2003. I remember that because Pam and I were going out for early Saturday morning rides on gorgeous, clear, frosty mornings one weekend after the other.

Since then the winters have all been “anomalous”: frosts and clear weather becoming unusual. 

It often meant coping with traipsing through mud and with numerous floods 

One year the stream at the farm broke its banks at least five times in one season.

However, the last couple of summers have been very dry and the last couple of winters have been dry and very mild.

My theory throughout, based on my subjective observations, has been that there has been drought for the past 3 years and there has been no recovery during the winters.

Last summer the wetland on the farm completely dried up and it has done so again this summer.

Chronicling the declining river and drought

I have been chronicling the decline in the Hutt river for at least the last year or so and recording it on this blog.

Last year I wrote a couple of pieces on this blog recording my concerns and even appeared in the local newspaper, the Hutt News. 

As the paper is owned by the same company that owns all the local newspaper it had wide coverage. 

Nevertheless, there was almost zero response to my concerns

View of the river facing north towards the Ewan Bridge and Lower Hutt CBD

View from the Ewan bridge facing south. Normally the river would be wide and freeflowing, even in summer

The river looking a bit more healthy, in spring time in 2014. You can still see the aggradation downstream near the bridge - photo: Sheila Merrigan

The Hutt river as we would all like to see it. It is vegetation like that on the left bank that the Council would destroy - PHOTO: Sheila Merrigan


The situation has, of course got much worse with the recordbreaking el-Nino -exactly as I had predicted.

Nobody, but NOBODY, is joining any dots (except in people' innermost thoughts or the odd private conversation

This is of course a situation of a whole region that includes the capital Wellington, extracting water from the river as if there is no tomorrow (which, in fact there is not) meets an abrupt climate change- induced multi-year drought.

Of course if you don't ask the questions (as those that run things refuse to do) you don't get any answers.

I'm sure I'd get the response that the reservoirs are healthily full, which may be true - until they're not.


The other thing that officials might tell me is that the Hutt Council has a plan to respond to climate change.

This of course a response to the very real danger of historic floods threatening the city centre.

They are envisaging changes that stop at sea level rise in the next 50-100 years based on the "best evidence" from the policy summaries of the IPCC (not even the scientific findings) which, as we know, are so out of touch with what is actually happening with their computer modelling, as to be completely wrong.

"About 75 properties along Pharazyn and Marsden streets face being bought up to allow a new stopbank to be built between the Melling and Ewen bridges.

The bank will form the next stage of flood protections works on the river, being carried out by Greater Wellington Regional Council. Without it, Lower Hutt is projected to face a bill for up to $1.1 billion in damages were a 1-in-440-year flood to occur."

This means, as I understand it, the destruction of 75 properties, the removal of all the trees to build a new stopbank and large floodplain.

All this seems to be a developer/engineers wetdream and will keep the Ponzi economy going for a bit longer (they hope).

They will almost certainly ignore sensible (and far cheaper) advice like that from a retired hydrologist who suggests the quarrying of the shingle deposits that have served to raise the level of the river.

And then of course any suggestions from ecologists will be just as studiously ignored in favour of the developers. The first thing I’d be doing if I was in charge would be to seek out the advice of Mike Joy.

They are talking about the inevitable flood of the future but completely close their ears to hearing about the very real, present problems of climate change-induced drought and water shortages.

What no one will acknowledge (bar a very few) is that we are looking not so much at a crisis but a PREDICAMENT

It all comes down to what is available in infinite quantities in a world that has long exceeded its resource base – stupdity and ignorance.

Here are some of the articles from the past year - 

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