More work to do on water

Environment Minister Amy Adams says the release of two environmental water reports paint an encouraging picture of our waterways but also underline the need for the Government’s freshwater reforms.

. . . The river condition indicator is based on data that was collected across more than 300 regional council and NIWA-monitored sites over a ten year period (2000-2010), out of the tens of thousands of waterways across New Zealand.

The report shows that overall concentrations of nutrients and bacteria are either stable or improving at most monitored sites, and that water quality is generally improving.

The swimming suitability indicator provides a summary of monitored swimming sites. It reflects a precautionary approach to managing public health risks, which means that even a very small risk will be flagged through a lower grading.

The report shows that many swimming spots are affected in wet weather as a result of stormwater runoff. At some sites, heavy rain and wind can churn up sediment from the bottom of the waterway, releasing pathogens back into the water.

Other common sources of water pollution are urban stormwater systems, livestock, fertilisers and dense populations of wildlife. . .

Dense populations of wildlife are a particular concern for us.

There’s a large colony of seagulls nesting in a canyon not far above the intake for the water scheme which supplies us.

That’s causing high levels of contamination but because some are a protected species their right to nest trumps our right to clean water.

Ms Adams says the Government’s freshwater reform programme is critical to improving water quality and the way freshwater is managed.

“Issues with our waterways have been building over a number of generations, and it is going to take a similarly long time to fully realise solutions for these issues.

“The key tenet of the Government’s proposals is that improving our water management system will require solutions that start now and build over the long-term. There is no quick fix.”

There are many contributors to poor water quality.

The impact of most has built up over years to decades.

Improvements are being made and more work is needed.

But the Minister rightly points out the problems didn’t happen overnight and it will take time for the solutions to make a difference.

The river condition report is here.

The swimming suitability report is here.

29 Responses to More work to do on water

  1. Mr E says:

    Yes finally some recognition we are on the right track. I hope the regional councils pay attention and start to echo these statements. Communities need recognition. Overall good result everyone. Congratulations.

    I think people can hold their heads high and turn their focus to making progress towards the trickiest challenge. Nitrate. Knowing the gains you have made in other areas I know you will all take it in your stride.


  2. robertguyton says:

    *dances* ?
    Is this statement not correct then, Mr E?

    “More than 60 per cent of monitored rivers in New Zealand are unsafe for swimming according to Environment Ministry figures, but the Government says the results of its water quality reports are still “encouraging”.”

    *dances* ? There seems precious little to dance about in that, Mr E – 60%, unsafe for swimming? That’s shameful! I’m not blaming any one, not this Government, nor the last, but 60% unswimmable?
    Your dancing, lke the Government’s expression of encouragement, seems a little…unseemly, to me.


  3. JC says:

    Hey, I’m doing my bit, each night I’m peeing on a very yellow mandarin tree which is resisting Epsom Salts and citrus fert.

    I’m thinking about augmenting the big lemon tree but this is very much a “drip line” operation because I can only get within a couple of metres of the trunk and I no longer have the projection inspired by youth and beer.

    The orange tree at the front of the section poses a bit of a problem as its well lighted by a lamppost and a big clearance of vegetation but once the mandarin bush is sorted a suitable ingestion of wine will undoubtedly overcome this problem.



  4. homepaddock says:

    The river from which we get our water was unswimmable over summer. The reason for that, as i said in the post, was a large colony of seagulls, the protection of which prevented landowners and the regional council from dispersing them.

    Either we put water quality before the habitat of the birds or we accept that the river will remain unswimmable.


  5. Armchair Critic says:

    As I read it, the issue you raised in the post was with your drinking water quality, not with bathing water quality (the two being different things) Ele. Was it one, the other, or both?.
    You’ve piqued my curiosity, I’ve come across waters rendered unsuitable for bathing due to faecal contamination by birds before, but never seagulls in a river. Can you tell me what species they are? And also, whether the nesting site is well established, or has been established recently?


  6. homepaddock says:

    The post linked to two reports – one on drinking water, the other on swimming.

    Posts on the gulls with links to newspaper reports:


  7. Armchair Critic says:

    Yeah, thanks Ele. I wasn’t really asking about the general trends (which are what the reports you linked to show), but the specific incidence of the seagulls. The two posts you linked to are helpful.
    Part of the reason I’m asking relates to the habits and adaptability of gulls. They are often considered to be useful as an indicator of environmental changes, and specifically degradation of the environment. This is why I was asking about whether the colony was a newly established one, or a newly discovered one.
    Another reason I asked was because I wanted to determine whether you thought:.
    – there should be a superficial approach to addressing the problem (e.g. chase away/kill the gulls) or
    – something a little more nuanced (e.g. change the environment over a few years so it was not attractive for gulls to nest there), or
    – perhaps the latter mixed in with a bit of human ingenuity, so you could share the river with the gulls?
    I do have the sinking feeling that you’ve gone for a “seagulls pollute rivers, so it’s OK for farmers to do it too” line of argument.


  8. Mr E says:

    That’s right. 60% and improving with slow but steady gains expected. Thats how i interpreted it. I am over the moon.
    You’re not? Not feeling pleased at improvements? Not feeling in some part responsible for gains?
    I feel sorry for you.
    Even though I guess you may ignore it I will offer a digital pat on the back. Same to the central government, urban folk, manufacturing industry, and not least of all farmers. Good job. You have turned the trend around. But let’s not sit back. Nitrate still needs attention. And of course some catchments still need more attention than others.
    In the mean time, try reflecting on what a some hard work, clever thinking and investment can do.
    And of course I will keep doing a little dance.


  9. homepaddock says:

    “I do have the sinking feeling that you’ve gone for a “seagulls pollute rivers, so it’s OK for farmers to do it too” line of argument.”

    Absolutely not. Everyone – in the town and country – has a responsibility to do all we can to contribute to good water quality.


  10. robertguyton says:

    Over the moon? On hearing that gains will be slow? Not really. I’m not that easily satisfied, Mr E. I want much better than that. I’m dismayed at the 60% figure, for starters. How have we allowed such degradation to occur? It points to a serious disconnect from the natural world – a ‘shitting in one’s own nest’ kind of approach to living on the land.
    Thank you, btw, for the digital back-pat and let me assure you, I’m not planning to sit back either. There are constant challenges to real progress on improving water quality which I may see more keenly than you, given my fortunate position in local body politics and my involvement in various not-for-profit ecological and environmental projects. Water quality, btw, is not something that can be measured by simply sticking a monitor in the middle of a river. If the state of a catchment’s estuaries, for example, are excluded from a study, it becomes something of a nonsense, wouldn’t you agree?


  11. Mr E says:

    I would have thought that a person of your position would have released the environment won’t change tomorrow. It takes time. We could call it slow but relative to natural cycles some might expect change to be very very rapid.
    Of course we need to consider how change is monitored. 5 year averages. Great isn’t it that quality has been improving over the last 5 years? That of course could be nothing for 4 years and rapid for 1 year, who knows?

    I have to say this 5 year improvement has happened during a period of great Dairy growth in New Zealand. I am thinking WOW, economic growth while improving the environment. Great job dairy farmers. Your green credentials are shining through. Thank goodness New Zealand has you. Perhaps we need more of you? Certainly not silly rules that seek to limit your presence in our economy. We need you.


  12. jabba says:

    Mr E .. when the Gweens/Labour/Winny1st/lackofMana become Govt, possibly next year, our rivers will be drinkable within weeks. RHG has been given a cash injection with his massive pay rise and will be a beaver in this area .. go bOb


  13. Mr E says:

    Considering in 2004, 75% of native forest water ways were polluted with ecoli (relative to the ANZECC & ARMCANZ 2000 drinking standard) and about 50% polluted with phosphate (DRP), such a government would have to ban life to clean the waterways. – Perhaps they could change the nuclear policy and zap everything? Or back to slash and burn? Beats me?

    Ele is right. There are many things that affect water quality. We all have to do our part. And this report for the government is a good pat on the back. We are on the right track.


  14. robertguyton says:

    “Will be a beaver”
    That’s quite good, jabba!
    First time.


  15. jabba says:

    thought you would like it .. beavers are good


  16. Armchair Critic says:

    Note to self – avoid provocative statements when you genuinely want a serious answer.
    Your suggestion that we all need to do all we can to contribute to good water quality is a bit simplistic for my liking. There are circumstances where we should be prepared to accept poor water quality. Your river, with the seagulls, could well be one.


  17. Mr E says:

    Do people understand how the ‘suitability for swimming indicators’ are assessed?
    There are 2 criteria equally contributing to the outcome – A ‘Microbial assessment category (MAC)’ which uses objective measurement of microbes. And a subjective – ‘Sanitary inspection category (SIC)’ an assessment of catchment that identifies risk factors including “agricultural run-off, stormwater or sewage discharges, and dense bird or other wildlife populations”

    Together these 2 assessments form a matrix. eg An A-A is very good and a D-D is very poor.

    Even though this assessment technique is recommended by the WHO as international best practice, it doesn’t mean we should not question it.

    A problem I have with the technique is it is largely affected by subjectivity. The data from Southland has quite a few spots that have a good MAC but a low SIC (the subjective assessment).
    Often this is because the site of monitor is down stream from either a town, farm land or most importantly estuaries. Many of Southlands rivers have an estuary before the sea. And the people who are assessing the SIC appear to be saying – Estuary=bad even though the quantitative assessment is often a B (A-D with A being best). The assessment technique does have a contradiction adjustment but it does not appear to do us any favours.

    I think the public has a growing negative perception about estuaries, and agriculture run off. That is bound to affect the subjective assessments made, which is not necessarily fair.

    To be fair on Southland many of the monitoring sites are on down hill sites of farming and estuaries. That means a large portion are rated as bad. And frankly I don’t think that is a fair representation of Southlands swimming sites.

    In my view we need an objective assessment, not one affected by subjectivity. I am disappointed about the location of sites. It makes Southland look bad and that is not fair.

    Worse – it gives the ‘Doom brigade’ ammo.


  18. Mr E says:

    Looking at the data we have the following NZ estuaries sites
    BOP Waimapu Estuary Motel-Motor Camp C Low (risk)
    BOP Waiotahi Beach Estuary C Moderate
    CANT Waimapu Estuary Motel-Motor Camp C Moderate
    HB Porangahau Estuary D High
    NTLD Ngunguru Estuary @ school – –
    OTG Kakanui Estuary at Clifton Falls C High
    STLD Jacobs River Estuary d/s Railway Br East B High
    STLD New River Estuary at Omaui B High
    STLD New River Estuary at Water Ski Club B High

    Not only does Southland have 3 estuary monitoring sites but their objective monitoring shows them to be the best in New Zealand (amongst estuaries). Conversely the subjective assessments has them as the worst in New Zealand.



  19. Mr E says:

    The Canterbury estuary is Okains Bay Estuary with an MAC of C and a SIC of moderate.
    Canterbury also has lake Ellersmere at the lakeside which is a C and moderate.


  20. Armchair Critic says:

    The estuaries that rank as the “best” are the ones we should be trying to protect, Mr E. That would require an assessment of the threats to the water quality and the creation of strategies to manage the threats.
    It’s easier to protect a good estuary than to restore a bad one.


  21. Mr E says:

    Sure, I agree AC. I think communities have doing those things for years and water quality is improving. I hope that means lessons have been learned and we are a lot wiser. Not to say we should sit back. Just to give ourselves a pat on the back.


  22. robertguyton says:

    Nope. Estuaries all over the show are failing as ecosystems because of land use up-stream (everything is upstream of an estuary.) AC is mostly right when he says,
    ‘It’s easier to protect a good estuary than to restore a bad one’.
    My view is that it’s impossible to restore a bad one, but if you have any suggestions as to how it can practically be done, I’m all ears.


  23. Armchair Critic says:

    I’m also correct when I say “the estuaries that rank as the “best are the ones we should be trying to protect”. It’s kind of like saying “if it ain’t broken don’t break it”
    It’s not impossible to restore ecosystems, Robert. There are at least three challenges. From easiest to most difficult (IMO) they are technical (doing some things that fix it), financial (finding the funding) and ideological (convincing people it can and should be done).


  24. robertguyton says:

    Great theory, AC. Got any practical ideas? That don’t involve waiting 300 years? Dredges? Sky-hooks? Mud-eating, continent (opposite of incontinent) catfish? Creating water-spouts perhaps? I’m still mostly ear.


  25. Armchair Critic says:

    Uh, yes, plenty of practical ideas. None that can be compressed into a comment on a blog, though.


  26. robertguyton says:

    A link to some useful site or other? Perhaps you write a blog?


  27. Mr E says:

    One study on lakes suggests the solution to eutrophication is more nitrogen. It doesn’t sit that we’ll with me but the findings shouldn’t be ignored.

    I am guessing considering your concern for estuaries you are pleased water quality is improving? No?


  28. Mr E says:

    A further review of the data has thrown up some concerns for me.

    The Otago site at Kaka point has a very good objective assessment (MAC = A) but a very bad subjective assessment (SIC= very high risk) and the final outcome is “very good”. This is in contrast to the methodology and there seems to be an error here. I suspect the SIC should be very low (risk) and someone has made an error.

    I have applied numerical ranks so the word and letter rankings so I can review the data further.
    I show up some big concerns primarily some regions provide very high subjective assessments and others very low relative to their objective measures. Manawatu-Wanganui for example has some worst objective measures but some of the best subjective measures.

    Bay of plenty on the other hand has some of the best objective data and some of the worst subjective data.

    There seems to be little consistency in the correlation between MAC and SIC between regions. I feel nervous about the subjective data in this analysis.


  29. Mr E says:

    MFE has agreed there appears to be an “conflict” with the suitability for swimming Otago data. They are now raising it with the Otago Regional council.
    I wonder if the ORC will contact the media and report warnings to the thousands that will be rushing to Kaka point given the very good rating. If not should rate payers get upset with Fonterra?


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