Blocks by de­sign

Is your lo­cal river fit to swim in?

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents - SARA GER­ARD Aerial pho­tos: Peter Scott

Why we must clean up our blocks

Ihave vivid child­hood mem­o­ries of sum­mer week­end fam­ily pic­nics at our lo­cal rivers and streams.

The nearby Tuk­i­tuki River is known as the jewel of Hawkes Bay. Ten years ago we took our chil­dren down for a swim but the ex­pe­ri­ence got a bit iffy with swathes of thick, brown, un­pleas­ant al­gae. Some sum­mers it has toxic blue-green al­gae present.

We never go there now. This sum­mer Tuk­i­tuki lo­cals took their chil­dren pad­dling in the river and they all felt un­well in the days that fol­lowed.

It is a mat­ter of the tragedy of the com­mons that we as small land-hold­ers are in­di­vid­u­ally pow­er­less to make any dif­fer­ence in the de­clin­ing state of the wa­ter qual­ity of our lo­cal streams, rivers and lakes.

We can eas­ily con­vince our­selves the pol­lu­tion prob­lem is from the lo­cal ur­ban area due to in­ef­fec­tive sewage sys­tems and the lack of will from res­i­dents to cover the sub­stan­tial hike in coun­cil rates to get the plant up to stan­dard. Dur­ing rain events the road gut­ters and stormwa­ter sump area are a del­uge of hy­dro­car­bons, rub­bish and chem­i­cals, dis­trib­uted through the stormwa­ter sys­tem, which goes di­rectly - un­treated - into the river and re­ceiv­ing fish life.

But there are the ru­ral folk in the catch­ment too, pas­toral and crop­ping farm­ers spread­ing in­or­ganic ni­trate and phos­pho­rus fer­tilis­ers, cat­tle graz­ing and ex­cret­ing in the wa­ter­ways, dairy farm­ers with high stock­ing rates of lac­tat­ing cows cre­at­ing uri­na­tion patches on lighter al­lu­vial soil leach­ing ni­trates through to the ground wa­ter, the hor­ti­cul­tur­al­ists and vine­yards ap­ply­ing agri­chem­i­cals up and down the rows.

On steeper coun­try, erod­ing hill pas­toral land and plan­ta­tion forestry clear felling causes sed­i­men­ta­tion which cre­ates

phos­pho­rus load­ing in streams. There may be lo­cal min­ing or industrial op­er­a­tions con­tribut­ing to pol­lu­tion with toxic chem­i­cals and hy­dro­car­bons en­ter­ing into the ground­wa­ter and sur­face wa­ter.

Swamps and wet­lands, peat soil and wa­ter­ways full of reeds and rushes pro­vide the wa­ter re­ten­tion and play a crit­i­cal role in fil­ter­ing and clean­ing the wa­ter within the catch­ment. But land ‘im­prove­ment’ through drainage and the spray­ing of wet­land plants in wa­ter­ways de­stroys the fil­ter­ing and clean­ing ef­fect, and also in­creases run-off and through- flow in the catch­ment dur­ing and af­ter a rain event. With­out such re­ten­tion in the up­per catch­ment, rivers down­stream have lower flows dur­ing sum­mer. The lower ‘low flows’ in­crease wa­ter tem­per­a­ture al­low­ing the nu­tri­ents to feed nui­sance al­gae blooms which then clog the streams, af­fect­ing macro-in­ver­te­brates, fish life, recre­ation, and amenity val­ues.

It’s all tak­ing out the nat­u­ral life force or ‘mauri’ of the streams and rivers.

To leave the clean-up of our wa­ter­ways to the per­ceived main pol­luters, such as the up­stream dairy farmer, may cause re­sent­ment and then re­luc­tance in the long run. A down­stream farmer may be do­ing all the plan­ning, im­ple­men­ta­tion and mon­i­tor­ing of their sys­tems to con­trol and min­imise pol­lu­tion but if they then look at the stream and still see pol­lu­tion from oth­ers, the en­thu­si­asm to in­vest fur­ther is likely to run thin.

I am presently work­ing with a saw miller who feels this way. He is op­er­at­ing un­der a Coun­cil-ap­proved Pol­lu­tion Pre­ven­tion Plan but is re­luc­tant to in­stall an ex­pen­sive stormwa­ter treat­ment de­vice when there is ob­vi­ous on­go­ing pol­lu­tion com­ing from up­stream.

It all sounds a bit bleak, but I do be­lieve de­spite our dif­fer­ent land ac­tiv­i­ties, ev­ery­one in a com­mu­nity has a role. We are all part of the prob­lem and part of the so­lu­tion, from the café owner about to tip a bucket of bleach down the out­side drain to the farmer plan­ning their au­tumn aerial fer­tiliser ap­pli­ca­tion or a dairy con­ver­sion.

Life­style block ac­tiv­i­ties in­di­vid­u­ally or col­lec­tively also in­cre­men­tally con­trib­ute to wa­ter qual­ity prob­lems. They may be a small part of the prob­lem but there is an op­por­tu­nity to pro­vide a

Shade and shel­ter is im­por­tant for an­i­mal wel­fare, plus it has been proven to in­crease milk pro­duc­tion. It also makes the land more beau­ti­ful.

larger por­tion of the so­lu­tions through be­ing ac­tively in­volved with a lo­cal sub-catch­ment com­mu­nity pro­vid­ing en­cour­age­ment and aware­ness, or­gan­is­ing field days and mon­i­tor­ing, get­ting the coun­cil in to as­sist, plant­ing and wet­land restora­tion days, in­volv­ing the lo­cal school, com­mu­nity groups etc.

The so­lu­tion to wa­ter qual­ity degra­da­tion re­quires the in­volve­ment of the whole com­mu­nity in the catch­ment. There are ex­am­ples of com­mu­ni­ties around the coun­try work­ing to­gether and en­hanc­ing lo­cal streams, rivers, lakes and estuaries. From my ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing within projects in­volv­ing in­te­gra­tive sub­catch­ments, the man­age­ment op­er­ate within col­lec­tive com­mu­nity groups ap­ply­ing the en­thu­si­asm, pres­sure and de­ter­mi­na­tion for re­ward­ing long term re­sults.

Sub-catch­ment man­age­ment groups can ask lo­cal Re­gional Coun­cils to as­sist with:

• map­ping

• fa­cil­i­tat­ing ed­u­ca­tion, work­shops and

plant­ing days

• news­let­ters, com­mu­ni­ca­tion

• science

• mon­i­tor­ing and re­port­ing

• fund­ing as­sis­tance for fenc­ing and


Im­prov­ing wa­ter qual­ity re­quires greater aware­ness of the in­di­vid­ual and chang­ing mind­sets and the cul­ture of both ur­ban and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties when it comes to waste­water, stormwa­ter, ground­wa­ter and the fresh wa­ter of our streams, rivers and lakes. n

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