Monday, 23 May 2016

Canterbury facing chronic ecosystem failure

John Key: Our rivers are in “good shape”
"A staggering 74 per cent of New Zealand's native freshwater fish species are in danger of extinction.
"Compare that to the global average of 37 per cent and you are pushing it to say, as John Key recently stated, that our rivers are actually in "good shape"."


Canterbury facing 'chronic ecosystem failure' without action, ecologist warns


23 May, 2015

Fish & Game says its new report shows ECan has failed to adequately protect our streams, rivers and lakes.
SUPPLIED
Fish & Game says its new report shows ECan has failed to adequately protect our streams, rivers and lakes.
OPINION: I sit here, high on the flanks of Hutchinson's bluff, Raoul Island, Rangitahua – New Zealand's northernmost island – and best described by Arthur Bowes Smyth on the first European discovery as a tiny speck "in the midst of a prodigious sea".
I'm perched above Western Springs, one of only two places on the island where freshwater springs from the volcanic earth. I watch as it pools behind a tiny concrete dam, fills some slapped-together fish bins with simple plumbing, and travels onwards 3 kilometres down towards our base.
This 20mm pipe running at a humble 8 litres per minute keeps our water tanks full with more freshwater than we need, and here, as in many places in Canterbury, you turn on the tap and clean clear freshwater flows out on demand.
Lake Forsyth on Banks Peninsula has had toxic algae blooms since January and is in worse health than it has been in ...
STACY SQUIRES/FAIRFAX NZ

Lake Forsyth on Banks Peninsula has had toxic algae blooms since January and is in worse health than it has been in recent years.
As I marvel at the simplicity of this setup, I am aware that even here, in this far flung outpost, it's all too easy to take it for granted.

My experience is in stark contrast to that of the Bell family, whose 30 year-long struggle to settle this island in the late 1800s is recounted in their legendary book Crusoes of Sunday Island. Theirs tells a story of what life would be like here if it weren't for our reliable supply of clean fresh water. A struggle, to survive, let alone grow food, keep animals and support a growing family.

Signs warn of toxins at Canterbury's Lake Forsyth.
STACY SQUIRES/FAIRFAX NZ
Signs warn of toxins at Canterbury's Lake Forsyth.
News from the mainland comes through our satellite internet connection as steady as our water, and as a freshwater ecologist marooned by water a good deal saltier than what I'm familiar with, I find myself catching up on the headlines and happenings through concerned colleagues and friends.
It makes for depressing reading. Cattle continue to have access to defecate in and trample streams, Lake Forsyth's killer toxicity and our almost flippant sale of our diminishing pristine aquifer water to corporate bottling companies are among other latest disastrous local government decisions and actions that have got tongues and tempers a-wagging over freshwater.
It's much needed attention for the freshwater world. New Zealand's freshwater crisis is nowhere so pronounced as in Canterbury.
Lake Forsyth, on Canterbury's Banks Peninsula, can appear to be a stunning water resource.
ENVIRONMENT CANTERBURY
Lake Forsyth, on Canterbury's Banks Peninsula, can appear to be a stunning water resource.
Our extensive aquifers, world renowned braided river systems and lowland rivers and streams are under relentless pressure from development, particularly that of large scale irrigation and land conversion to dairy. Our national freshwater statistics include New Zealand having the highest rates per capita of coliform enteritis, campylobacter, cryptosporidium and salmonella in the OECD.
Not surprising when we consider that Canterbury's cow census for 2015 put us at 1.2 million cows – a conservative effluent equivalent of over 16 million people, but without the sewage treatment plants.
Fishing and swimming are already widely restricted due to faecal contamination and toxic cyanobacteria blooms (such as in Lake Forsyth), which thrive in the increasingly high temperatures our dwindling rivers and lakes provide; and the pollution of drinking water is climbing steadily in our rural areas where residents pump water from their own shallow aquifer bores.
Pregnant women and mothers in some rural areas have been warned by Canterbury District Health Board not to use their water to bottle-feed their infants as the nitrogen level in the water may be so high that it could disrupt their baby's ability to uptake oxygen effectively resulting in "blue baby syndrome".
A staggering 74 per cent of New Zealand's native freshwater fish species are in danger of extinction.
Compare that to the global average of 37 per cent and you are pushing it to say, as John Key recently stated, that our rivers are actually in "good shape".
If the creatures that evolved to live in our rivers and streams can no longer survive in them then we have a chronic ecosystem failure that will take much more than denial, boyish smiles and empty platitudes to make any tangible improvements.
Both central and local government need to wise up to the fact that we cannot "collaborate" away environmental limits.
"Wise" does not appear to be their strongpoint.
The Government last week announced $312,000 of funding from Nathan Guy's Ministry for Primary Industries' Irrigation Acceleration Fund for ECan to conduct a series of aquifer recharge trials in Hinds, diverting Rangitata water towards the aquifers to essentially "water down" and dilute the high levels of nitrogen in the catchment.
In 2010, emeritus professor Walter Clark, HOD at the University of Canterbury's Zoology Department, sounded inThe Press a warning emphasising that we cannot predict the effects of many of our actions when it comes to groundwater.
He questioned at the time when our then newly-appointed commissioners were taking the reigns, the logic of pouring vast quantities of dung and urine onto our soil and then attempting to "water it in".
"Will we so load the water under porous soils with organic matter that its decomposition will use up the oxygen and asphyxiate the stygofauna (the creatures which clean our water)?"
Six years later, it appears we are comfortable with going in blind on this one.
With the certainty of an uncertain future that climate change will bring, how do we reduce the vulnerability of ourselves, our children and our grandchildren in a future where access to clean water will be increasingly critical?
Are we content leading future generations towards suffering and hardship that we and our predecessors have never before faced, without even the guarantee of reliable freshwater?
Will the Government respond with robust regulatory limits, as advised by the scientific community, that make serious progress towards cleaning up our mess, recognising that our entire wellbeing and future economy rests upon decisions made now? Or will we continue to play pretend?
From here, high on the slopes of Raoul Island the horizon dips away, the ocean stretching out in every direction. Water, water everywhere, but aside from this fortuitous freshwater spring, not a drop to drink.
Canterbury's freshwater resources are the bare bones of what allows our communities to survive, let alone thrive, and that is something history suggests we dare not take for granted.
Lan Pham is a freshwater ecologist and Director of Working Waters Trust, an organisation dedicated to freshwater education and conservation. When she is not marooned on Raoul island, she lives in Christchurch and works with landowners, schools, community groups and iwi throughout Canterbury, Southland and Otago.

Stuff


No comments:

Post a Comment