By failing to protect our water, we have failed all that is valued by New Zealand Tom Kay | Living environment | Instant News

New Zealand is blessed with water. Fresh water flows from our snow and glacier-clad mountains, through our farms and cities, to the sea. The river has a deep cultural value and one, Whanganui, has been recognized as having someone’s rights. For the Kiwi, our economy, our health, and our way of life depend on clean water.

But our dependence on clean water has not stopped abuse for decades. Now, our rivers and lakes are in serious trouble. On Thursday, data-driven extensive reports into the state of New Zealand’s rivers, lakes and freshwater ecosystems were released by two government departments, the NZ Ministry of Environment and Statistics. Their findings, delivered when Covid-19 was locked nationally, could not be more alarming. Our freshwater ecosystem is at its peak; the damage is extraordinary and in some cases irreversible.

Between 95% and 99% of rivers in urban, pastoral and non-native forest areas are highly polluted; 90% of our valuable wetlands have been drained and destroyed; 70% of our native freshwater fish go extinct.

In addition to the environmental outcomes that brought this disaster, this report confirms that New Zealand’s economy, our identity, our cultural values ​​and our well-being depend on environmental health.

In failing environment, we fail everything we value.

Our total failure to protect the ecosystems on which we depend is a national disgrace and is now a national crisis.

Irrigated land has increased 100% in only 15 years, mainly to enable dairy farming in areas that are too dry to grow grass. Irrigation is now the largest water user in Indonesia New Zealand, accounting for almost half of all water released from the ecosystem. In contrast, at least 1,257 hectares of wetlands were destroyed between 2001 and 2016 to expand “productive” land to areas that were too wet.

Climate change, the report warns us, will bring more frequent and longer drought. Already, the ground in a quarter of the site being monitored dried up. Some of our largest agricultural areas and cities are still suffering under one of the longest periods of drought ever experienced in New Zealand. But our banks, governments and agricultural leaders are still pushing for water-dependent farming systems that cannot succeed, both environmentally and economically. The report warns us, under business as usual, New Zealand will experience food shortages.

We need fresh water, and now the rivers, lakes and all our native plants and animals that depend on them urgently need us to protect and restore them. The message was never very clear, or very urgent.

But public anger over our mismanagement of water has generated hope. After years of serious public and industrial consultation, the significant freshwater management reforms that New Zealand needs are fully developed, and are ready to go. The new rules will limit pollution, protect wetlands, and stop excessive water demand. These rules will save our river. But they have not yet been applied.

For too long, our environmental management system and politicians have been captured by outdated ways of thinking about profit margins and costs, while forgetting the immeasurable losses we face in biodiversity, human health, and cultural well-being.

And incredibly, some agricultural industry groups are calling for environmental regulations to be postponed – if not completely ignored. Covid-19, they said, meant the environment had to wait. It seems that their view that industry can only succeed while harming the world on which their agriculture is based.

In fact, the Covid-19 crisis has made it clearer why New Zealand needs strong rules to protect the health of the environment and society. Diseases that move from animals to humans, such as Covid-19, generally spread from farm animals to humans through water – such as Giardia, Cryptosporidium, E. coli, and Salmonella. Four years ago we experienced the largest recorded Campylobacter outbreak in the world. We must act to ensure that such an outbreak cannot and does not happen again because costs, as we know now, are a major disaster.

Delaying freshwater reform will be a disastrous step back for New Zealand and could be the final nail in the coffin for our natural ecosystems in rivers, lakes and wetlands that are already at their peak.

New Zealand, and the planet, requires a transformative economic recovery that cares for people and the planet. We need to create ethical and sustainable ways of working and living that protect our natural systems, and thus protect us. Clearly our system is currently badly damaged, but the solution is at hand. What we need is leaders with the courage to take it.


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