Dirty birds

Towards the end of last year a report from the Otago Regional Council raised concerns about deteriorating water quality in the Kakanui River.

One of the contributing factors was an increased level of E.coli.

Dairying was blamed although the council couldn’t find the source.

One of the dairy farmers decided to do his own research and canoed down the river.

He found a couple of dead sheep caught in submerged branches then he came on a large colony of seagulls nesting in a canyon.

He reported this to the council which sent a helicopter up the river and found the source of the problem.

. . .  a large colony of nesting gulls – was found in rugged terrain, about 5 km above the Clifton Falls bridge.

Water quality samples were taken immediately above and below the colony, with widely divergent results Upstream of the colony, the bacteria concentrations were 214 E.coli/100ml, whereas immediately downstream, the concentration was far greater at 1300 E.coli/100ml .

ORC manager of resource science Matt Hickey said that according to Government water quality guidelines for recreational swimming areas, those with less than 260 E.coli/100m should be safe, whereas water with more than 550 E.coli/100ml could pose a health-risk.

Mr Hickey said six colonies of gulls were found in total, on steep rocky faces, where they clearly favoured the habitat for nesting.

While they had gone undetected up until now due to the inaccessible nature of the gorge, it was likely the gulls returned each year to breed in the same places.

“Unfortunately, these nesting gull colonies are likely to continue to cause high E.coli concentrations in the upper Kakanui River, particularly during the breeding season,” Mr Hickey said.

“Bird activity, river flow, or even whether it is a cloudy or sunny day, (as E.coli often died quickly in clear water when exposed to sunlight) will influence actual bacteria numbers at Clifton Falls bridge. With hindsight, it reflects the random nature of the historical bacteria results at this site.”

Mr Hickey said the E.coli concentrations reflected a large number of birds congregating in a small area and we are fortunate this situation was not common in Otago. Historically E.coli concentrations in the lower Kakanui River have been very low, despite the gull colonies being found upstream.

The council is warning people against swimming in the river but we’ve had no warning about drinking the water, presumably because it’s treated.

Locals are very keen to solve the problem but it’s not necessarily a simple matter:

Coastal Otago biodiversity programme manager David Agnew said the Department of Conservation would look into the situation and try to identify which species of gull were nesting in the area.

Mr Agnew said the species involved would determine what could be done to remove them.

”Black-backed gulls are not protected so that’s not a problem as far as if they are causing a problem. They are not rare or threatened, they are not even protected, whereas red-billed gulls and black-billed gulls both have their own conservation concerns.”

There’s no concern about conservation with cows. If they were causing water quality problems farmers could face prosecution and would have to act quickly to address the cause.

Some gulls have a special status and if they’re the ones fouling the water the clean up will take some time.

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30 Responses to Dirty birds

  1. Andrei says:

    So I clicked on the link to read the story and found myself about to write a post on Homepaddock which I’m not allowed to do of course.

    Hey ho – mondayitus Ele

  2. Andrei says:

    Anyway – in previous discussions of water quality in New Zealand I have in the past mentioned the issues of rivers in Africa which are far far worse in general than anything we have here.

    And this is not because of “dirty” diary farmers of course but the local fauna some whom make for picturesque postcards and fodder for the ubiquitous wild life documentaries that have filled out TV screens ever since we first had TVs

    Other fauna such as river snails just carry nasty parasites which aflict millions.

    Nature is not always benevolent and benign and sometimes needs to be stomped on – hard!

  3. Andrei says:

    And isn’t it lucky that the Good Lord provided us with fossil fuels that provide the energy that makes it possible to build the water reticulation systems that can deliver clean, fresh and safe drinking water to the fortunate millions who live in the developed world

  4. robertguyton says:

    Are there gull colonies on every river that shows concerning ecoli levels?
    At any rate, it’s nitrates that are the greater concern. Ecoli (an indicator of the general contaminated state of waterways – their presence points at the presence of far worse organisms) levels have fallen since the bad old days of farmers releasing their herd’s effluent straight into the creeks and rivers. Nitrate levels however, haven’t as they don’t come primarily from effluent deposited in and around milking sheds. They come from urea application and cow urine, of which there are significantly increasing amounts.

  5. homepaddock says:

    Fixed,thanks Andrei.

  6. TraceyS says:

    How would you expect anyone to know if there are “…gull colonies on every river that shows concerning ecoli levels?”. It’s seems an unfair question. Look at the lengths the farmer had to go to find the problem. But perhaps you could recommend to the RC’s that a staff member regularly canoe the length of all rivers of concern? While they are there it might pay to look out for ducks, pukeko, and black swans as well. We have large populations of these near waterways on our property at the moment. It’s always been something that I’d thought we should encourage. But not if someone’s going to point the finger at us over their fecal contamination.

    “At any rate, it’s nitrates that are the greater concern”. Are you concerned about nitrate application “at any rate”? Are you also worried that nitrates (in the ocean) might give some protection against global warming?

    This is due to a process whereby nitrate chemicals entering the ocean feed phytoplankton leading to “…stimulat[ion of] the natural sulfur cycle associated with marine phytoplankton which could result in increased cloud reflectivity that would slow down global warming and possibly decrease sea level rise”.
    (http://climos.com/news/articles/slowingglobal.htm)

    “To counteract the warming due to doubling of atmospheric CO2, an approximate doubling of CCN [cloud-condensation nuclei] would he needed.”
    (http://www.jameslovelock.org/page35.html)

    Maybe what is sometimes a little bit of a problem is also a little bit of the answer.

  7. robertguyton says:

    The amazingly efficient water reticulation systems that were created and employed by past civilizations were built without the use of fossil fuels. The irony though is that by utilizing those fossil fuels at the rate and intensity we presently do, we’ll become one of those ‘past civilizations’, ‘we’ being the industrialized, consuming ‘First World’.

  8. robertguyton says:

    Isn’t it lucky that the Good Lord provided us with river snails that carry nasty parasites which afflict millions?

  9. robertguyton says:

    Ha! Lazy communicator, me. I’d never thought about the use of ‘at any rate’. I meant, ‘in any case’ or ‘whatever’ :-)
    There are rates of nitrogen application that are appropriate. You know as well as I do that there have been times when many farmers were applying vastly excessive amounts of nitrates to their pastures. It still happens, though to a lesser degree than previously.
    The speed with which some people seek to blame water fowl for degradation of rivers is laughable, in my view. The discussion has been had and the birds came out as scapegoats. Livestock carry that can. Now it’s sewerage that’s the target, and while I believe not one drop of human manure should get into any waterway, any where, I see the argument as another in the style of the ‘dirty birds’ argument, all designed to distract from the much more catchy ‘dirty dairying’ discussion. I note Bruce Wills won’t even use the phrase ‘dirty dairying’ in the same way Hogwarts students won’t say ‘Voldmort’

  10. TraceyS says:

    “The speed with which some people seek to blame water fowl for degradation of rivers is laughable”

    Well I do remember being told not to bother applying for ORC consent for a project that might attract ducks. That was not seen as a positive at all! Although there may have been reasons other than water degradation.

    Our river was one of the ones reported to be Very Good. I had the chance to fly over the place in a chopper a couple of weeks ago. It’s at least 300m in elevation from the river up to the top of the farm. Absolutely spectacular from the air. Lots of native bush, rocky bluffs – wonderful. The river bordering the entire southern side is in a great state. Pristine this far up (but I still don’t encourage the kids to drink it – you never know what might be rotting upstream my dad taught us). Impossible to fence to keep stock out though. However, almost too steep for them to go down there. Our neighbours are more traditional farmers than us. A wee frustration is surface runoff from a neighbour flowing down into our ponds. We’d like to try some innovative things as far as reducing nutrient level basically meaning increasing the pond to more of a small lake size. But needs consent and that costs time and lots of dosh.

    You might say I’m writing bombastically again. But I’m not. If you Greens had any sense, you’d be asking for a different pathway for environmentally-focussed consents (as opposed to strictly commercial ones).

    But you don’t trust us not to have alterior motives…

  11. TraceyS says:

    Slave labour anyone?

  12. robertguyton says:

    Do you have some to give away?

  13. robertguyton says:

    By ‘ducks’, I presume you mean mallards. Quite right to dissuade that kind of development then.

    If we Greens had any sense…nice subtle ad hom there, Tracey. If you Tory’s had a grain of intelligence…etc, etc. Thought you were going to eschew that sort of sniping?
    What, btw, do you believe us Greens are asking for in terms of environmentally-focussed consents, given that you believe we should take a different path?

  14. TraceyS says:

    No, only peasant labour – $8.65 an hour :)

  15. Mr E says:

    Commenting that water fowl degradation is laughable in a blog that provides strong evidence to the contrary, is laughable. At least to me. I wonder if it has exposed the depth and breadth of bias presented on these blogs?
    I guess Mr Wills would not use the description ‘dirty dairying’ for the same reason that Mr Norman doesn’t use the description ‘tree hugger’ or ‘pot smoking greenie’. Such terms are offensive to most and I don’t view either of said parties to be of that nature.
    Apologies to any of the dairy or environmental persuasion that might be offended by such terms. I too find them offensive and am processing a personal condemnation.

  16. TraceyS says:

    1. It was just a light-hearted dig Robert.
    2. An arm and a leg if you are not pushing for changes to the RMA to make some types of consents easier (not are you?). After all, you guys are supposed to be grassroots activists! Maybe more like proper politicians nowadays.

    At $8.65 an hour I can’t afford to spend money on some expensive consent process for the sake of the Environment. Shame though.

    How much dirt can you move with a shovel Robert and how fast? If we do away with the machines to build the dam that money could be spent on the consenting. Ah, now it’s looking viable!

    And nothing like feathering the nests of lawyers and consultants while diverting income away from the working-class.

  17. robertguyton says:

    The Greens are asking for ‘an arm and a leg’, if we are not…etc.
    You don’t know then, what the Greens position is. Why slight them then?

  18. robertguyton says:

    I have a badge sewn onto the lapel of my ‘council’ jacket that says, “Treehugger”. It’s a label I like very much and one I’m happy to wear. I can’t wear “pot smoking greenie” because I’m am not one, and it would be misleading, neither could Dr Norman, so far as I understand.

  19. TraceyS says:

    What is it then?

  20. TraceyS says:

    I can’t see anything on their website that advocates radical changes to the RMA. To the contrary it all seems to be about keeping the status quo.

  21. robertguyton says:

    If the Greens are avoiding calls for radical (radical, Tracey? Extremist much?) changes to the RMA then I’m backing them 100%. Calls for radical changes to the RMA come from extremists, in my view. The RMA is intended to protect the environment from extremists and extreme views. Your call for radical changes marks you as someone about whom I would have great concerns, in terms of the environment.

  22. TraceyS says:

    Radical ideas are not the ideas of extremists by default. I used the word “radical” as an adjective to describe change which is fundamental, basic, progressive, and from the root of the issues. Isn’t that what you’d expect from an environmentalist party?

    I don’t see that in the Green Party policies on their website. Like I said earlier, it’s all status quo as if the RMA is just the bees knees. If you are behind that “100%” then I suggest that you’re not seeing the wood for the trees.

    So then what are the Greens doing to make environmental projects easier under the RMA? From what you say above, all sounds defensive rather than progressive.

    It’s not such a frightening proposition Robert. I don’t know why you’d be so greatly concerned.

  23. Mr E says:

    Slogan for consideration. Greens – the Conservative party.

  24. TraceyS says:

    Well done Mr E!

  25. robertguyton says:

    Because Greens conserve, Mr E? The environment, such as it is, that we have remaining. Communities, such as remain? Standards of behaviour, such as they are?
    Yes, it’s a good title.

  26. robertguyton says:

    Not an extremist, Tracey? I see you substituted the word ‘fundamental’ as an alternative.
    Fundamentalist, are you Tracey :-)

  27. Mr E says:

    If I need to explain the difference between conservatism and conservation, I worry for the future of the Green party.

  28. TraceyS says:

    Admit it Robert, you’re getting pretty desperate now :(

    You have no idea who I am or what I believe in.

  29. Viv says:

    From the concise oxford dictionary: conservative, tending to conserve, averse to rapid changes. Conservation, preservation, esp of natural environment.

  30. Mr E says:

    Sad Viv, that you had to look that up. Whilst there was an element of humor in my recent comments I now fear that we have ventured far from the original topic. In an attempt to bring it back from the depths of rediculous I will try and redirect.
    We find ourselves recognising an example of where dairy farmers have been exhonerated by the actions of one farmer who did such a simple thing as paddle down the river. Seems obvious that more farmers should do this. I have met some farmers that are taking environmental monitoring into their own hands measure their own impacts. I have to say it is honourable and makes me wonder how appropriately their rates are being directed.

    2 weekends ago I found myself standing knee deep in the oreti river slurping away as I tend to do. The water was crystal clear and tasted great. The only sense of dairying was the faint smell from the boundary farm and a piece of baleage wrap in the bushes. This small amount of visual and nasal pollution pailed in comparison to the hundreds of pieces of litter in the parking area. I curse myself for not having adequate bags to return more litter home.
    I couldn’t help but feel disappointed in those that litter when they visit the river. I felt pleased by the relatively small impact the farmers were having at this location. It seems to me that farmers have nearly got it right. I think if the councils and farmers can focus on nitrates, rather than some holistic, expensive, go nowhere tangent, all New Zealanders will be proud of their efforts.
    As for those that litter, they have a long way to go.

    I congratulate Robert for recognising farmers have made improvements to their systems which has supposedly been linked to reduced ecoli in rivers. The automatic response to high levels of ecoli, should now be to question all potential sources rather than to immediately blame dairy farmers. I hope councils take heed. I hope farmers take heed and start their own investigations.
    I hope litter bugs are pressured to stop littering.

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