Thursday 31 March 2016

NZ rivers going “down the gurgler”

Clean, Green” New Zealand’s Rivers in Crisis
Tony Orman* Journalist/Editor P O Box 939 BLENHEIM, 7240 New Zealand

*Pic: What legacy are tomorrow New Zealand citizens being left with increasingly depleted and polluted rivers?

26 March, 2016

New Zealand’s rivers are in a crisis stage with Government intent on using the water to set up corporate dairy farmers. Rivers are going “down the gurgler” in terms of flow and water quality.

Last Saturday (19 March) Christchurch-based “The Press” in the South Island featured a front page article about “trashed rivers.” North Canterbury Fish and Game chairman said the trout fishery had suffered years of environmental degradation. Declining river quality particularly close to Christchurch city has seen rivers suitable for swimming drop from 74 percent five years ago to 64 percent today.

Water is a public resource in New Zealand and trout fisheries by Act of Parliament are publicly owned. Rivers are valuable - indeed vital -  commercially recreationally and ecologically. But there is conflict because of New Zealand government bias towards converting low rainfall areas such as the Canterbury Plains and MacKenzie Basin near Mt Cook, into lush green pasture for corporate dairy farming. That grass growth in very low rainfall regions can only be achieved by irrigation from the underground aquifer or water on the surface in the form of rivers.

Dairying in mega-farm, monoculture style also causes nitrate pollution that leaches into aquifers and rivers.

The government obsessed push for massive dairying expansion is an avarice for money and export.

But ironically world dairy prices have plunged making dairying a much, much less attractive economic proposition. Dairy farmers, mostly the Kiwi family farm, are struggling with low returns and increasing debt levels. Corporates will survive and fears are overseas investors will snap up dairy farms as the traditional Kiwi farming families are forced to give up.

A key to government’s aim to increase dairying at the expense of rivers, is reforming the Resource Management Act to lower set standards for water quality. Government intends to “reform” freshwater management by amending the Resource Management Act and has been carrying out a roadshow programme for public meetings. But the itinerary shows government seems little interested in the concerns of a worried public.

Andi Cockcroft co-chairman of the Council of Outdoor Recreation Associations (CORANZ) described the itinerary as “underwhelming” with major cities such as Dunedin, Tauranga and New Plymouth left out.

Since freshwater is a publicly owned resource, the token consultation raises deep concern about government’s sincerity and questions about any likely ulterior motives,” he said.

Ken Sims spokesman for NZ Federation of Freshwater Anglers said the roadshow series of meetings seemed token consultation.

It’s going through-the-motions exercise without listening,” he said.

Reaction to the proposed reforms has not been supportive of government agenda. Even the Greater Wellington Regional council covering the district of the capital city Wellington and even government’s own environmental watchdog the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright told New Zealand’s Parliament the Bill amending the Resource Management Act (RMA) went too far in stopping people having their say on important environmental matters.”  Proposed amendments include giving the Environment Minister extreme power to shut out certain voices and make changes to local council plans.

The PCE said the powers granted to the Minister were “too wide-ranging.” The RMA is now 25 years old and has been amended many times. Dr Wright also made the point that it may be time for a fundamental rethink about how to protect our environment and how to plan cities.

It is not just dairying that is a factor in declining river quality. A number of urban areas still have inadequate sewage disposal.

All in all however New Zealand’s “clean green” image vital to attracting international tourists and giving New Zealand food exports a “100 percent pure” brand is looking very tattered.

Freshwater ecologist Mike Joy of Massey University has long been a strong advocate for arresting the worsening state of rivers. as to government’s preoccupation with increasing dairying of the corporate kind, he challenges the sustainability of intensive dairy farming in New Zealand, and the myth that the Resource Management Act protects the environment.

“Nitrogen fertiliser use has risen 700 percent in a decade; nitrogen levels at 77 fresh water sites are up.”

Nitrates leaching into rivers and aquifers are a major pollutant.

Back in 2011 Prime Minister John Key was interviewed on BBC Hardtalk about the myth of the country’s “100 percent pure” claim relative to rivers.

John Key found himself having to defend New Zealand’s “100 percent Pure’ slogan as BBC journalist Stephen Sackur grilled him about whether New Zealand really is as clean and green as the tourism campaign suggested.

Stephen Sackur cited Mike Joy, a leading environmental scientist at Massey University, who had said “we (New Zealand government) are delusional about how green and clean we are”.

That might be Mike Joy’s view, but I don’t share that view,” said Mr Key when Mr Sackur presented him with the quote.

Stephen Sackur then pointed out that Mr Joy was a scientist and would have based his comments on research.

Mr Key replied: “Well he’s one academic, and like lawyers I can give you another one that will give a counterview.”

The Prime Minister said that in comparison to the rest of the world New Zealand is ‘100% Pure’, but Mr Sackur disagreed, saying; “100 percent is 100 percent and clearly you’re not 100 percent. You’ve clearly got problems with river pollution, you’ve clearly got problems with species facing extinction.”

Mr Sackur said Mr Joy blamed decades of poor New Zealand government policy.
That was 2011. Now five years later government seems still in a state of denial about the loss of rivers and the myth about “clean and green” and “100 percent pure.” And the public’s river are being sacrificed.

Tony Orman is a New Zealand journalist and author of outdoor books

When Nick Smith said making every river swimmable ‘was not practical’ did a little bit of you die?
By Martyn Bradbury 

13 March, 2016

Neither a rap nor bible verse could sway Environment Minister Nick Smith to consider making waterways swimmable.

Smith visited Palmerston North on Thursday as part the Government’s nationwide fresh water consultation, the night before a new five-year plan to clean up the Manawatu River was due to be released.

As the meeting turned over to the public for questions, a range were posed of the minister ranging from swimmable waterways and the Shannon wastewater treatment plant, to a protest rap, and a reading of a few verses from the book of Genesis.

Smith fielded several questions on why the Government was not aiming for swimmable waterways.

Each time, he responded that it simply was not “practical”.

I do not think a legal requirement for every water body in New Zealand to be swimmable is practical.”

After cheerleading for the dairy intensification that now sees many dairy farms drowning in debt, Nick says it’s not ‘practical’ to ensure our rivers can be swam in.
Did a little bit of you die when you read that NZ?

This is the NZ National voters have built.

The Greens seem to be missing in action here. The Head of Hufflepuff, James Shaw (aka Dr Invisible) looks like a possum stuck in the headlights most interviews. I don’t want to sound like a trolls troll but the Greens communications and political strategy looks as flat footed as a duck. The Wellington clique who are running the Green Party now are great at alienating people on twitter, but don’t seem to be so sharp when it comes to making political gains.

Meanwhile our rivers run brown with cow shit so National Party voters can drown in debt.

Great work NZ.

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